front cover of Americo Paredes
Americo Paredes
In His Own Words, an Authorized Biography
Manuel F. Medrano
University of North Texas Press, 2010

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Archie Green
The Making of a Working-Class Hero
Sean Burns
University of Illinois Press, 2011
Archie Green: The Making of a Working-Class Hero celebrates one of the most revered folklorists and labor historians of the twentieth century. Devoted to understanding the diverse cultural customs of working people, Archie Green (1917–2009) tirelessly documented these traditions and educated the public about the place of workers' culture and music in American life. Doggedly lobbying Congress for support of the American Folklife Preservation Act of 1976, Green helped establish the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, a significant collection of images, recordings, and written accounts that preserve the myriad cultural productions of Americans.
Capturing the many dimensions of Green's remarkably influential life and work, Sean Burns draws on extensive interviews with Green and his many collaborators to examine the intersections of radicalism, folklore, labor history, and worker culture with Green's work. Burns closely analyzes Green's political genealogy and activist trajectory while illustrating how he worked to open up an independent political space on the American Left that was defined by an unwavering commitment to cultural pluralism.

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Ballad Hunting with Max Hunter
Stories of an Ozark Folksong Collector
Sarah Jane Nelson; Foreword by Robert Cochran
University of Illinois Press, 2023
A traveling salesman with little formal education, Max Hunter gravitated to song catching and ballad hunting while on business trips in the Ozarks. Hunter recorded nearly 1600 traditional songs by more than 200 singers from the mid-1950s through the mid-1970s, all the while focused on preserving the music in its unaltered form.

Sarah Jane Nelson chronicles Hunter’s song collecting adventures alongside portraits of the singers and mentors he met along the way. The guitar-strumming Hunter picked up the recording habit to expand his repertoire but almost immediately embraced the role of song preservationist. Being a local allowed Hunter to merge his native Ozark earthiness with sharp observational skills to connect--often more than once--with his singers. Hunter’s own ability to be present added to that sense of connection. Despite his painstaking approach, ballad collecting was also a source of pleasure for Hunter. Ultimately, his dedication to capturing Ozarks song culture in its natural state brought Hunter into contact with people like Vance Randolph, Mary Parler, and non-academic folklorists who shared his values.


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Dirty Jokes and Bawdy Songs
The Uncensored Life of Gershon Legman
Susan G. Davis
University of Illinois Press, 2019
Collector of sexual folklore. Cataloger of erotica. Tireless social critic. Gershon Legman's singular, disreputable resume made him a counter-cultural touchstone during his forty-year exile in France. Despite his obscurity today, Legman’s prescient work and passion for the prurient laid the groundwork for our contemporary study of the forbidden.Susan G. Davis follows the life and times of the figure driven to share what he found in civilization's secret libraries. Self-taught and fiercely unaffiliated, Legman collected the risqué on street corners and in theaters and dug it out of little-known archives. If the sexual humor he uncovered often used laughter to disguise hostility and fear, he still believed it indispensable to the human experience. Davis reveals Legman in all his prickly, provocative complexity as an outrageous nonconformist thundering at a wrong-headed world while reveling in conflict, violating laws and boundaries with equal abandon, and pursuing love and improbable adventures. Through it all, he maintained a kaleidoscopic network of friends, fellow intellectuals, celebrity admirers, and like-minded obsessives.

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Folklore in Utah
A History and Guide to Resources
David Stanley
Utah State University Press, 2004

Over thirty scholars examine the development of folklore studies through the lens of over one hundred years of significant activity in a state that has provided grist for the mills of many prominent folklorists. In the past the Folklore Society of Utah has examined the work of such scholars in biographical and other essays published in its newsletters. This book incorporates those essays and goes well beyond them to include many other topices, offering a thorough history of folklore studies and a guide to resources for those pursuing research in Utah now and in the future.

The essays survey the development and contributions of folklore studies in Utah from 1892 to 2004 but also represent developments in both academic and public-sector folklore throughout the United States. Following a thorough historical introduction, part I profiles the first folklorists working in the state, including Hector Lee, Thomas Cheney, Austin and Alta Fife, Wayland Hand, and Lester Hubbard. Part II looks at the careers of prominent Utah folklorists Jan Harold Brunvand, Barre Toelken, and William B. Wilson, as well as the works of the next, current generation of folklorists. Part III covers studies in major folklore genres, with essays on the study of material culture, vernacular architecture, and Mormon, ethnic, Native American, and Latino folklore. Part IV examines public folklore programs including organizations, conferences, and tourism. Back matter describes academic programs at Utah institutions of higher education, summarizes the holdings of the various folklore archives in the state, and provides a complete cross-indexed bibliography of articles, books, and recordings of Utah folklore.


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The Folklore Muse
Poetry, Fiction, and Other Reflections by Folklorists
Frank de Caro
Utah State University Press, 2008

Folklore—the inherently creative expression, transmission, and performance of cultural traditions—has always provided a deep well of material for writers, musicians, and artists of all sorts. Folklorists usually employ descriptive and analytical prose, but they, like scholars in other social sciences, have increasingly sought new, creative and reflexive modes of discourse. Many folklorists are also creative writers, some well known as such, and the folk traditions they research often provide shape and substance to their work. This collection of creative writing grounded in folklore and its study brings together some of the best examples of such writing.

Contributors to this collection include Teresa Bergen, John Burrison, Norma E. Cantu, Frank de Caro, Holly Everett, Danusha Goska, Neil R. Grobman, Carrie Hertz, Edward Hirsch, Laurel Horton, Rosan Augusta Jordan, Paul Jordan-Smith, Elaine J. Lawless, Cynthia Levee, Jens Lund, Mary Magoulick, Bernard McCarthy, Joanne B. Mulcahy, Kirin Narayan, Ted Olson, Daniel Peretti, Leslie Prosterman, Jo Radner, Susan Stewart, Jeannie Banks Thomas, Jeff Todd Titon, Libby Tucker, Margaret Yocom, and Steve Zeitlin.


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Heinrich Himmler's Cultural Commissions
Programmed Plunder in Italy and Yugoslavia
James R. Dow
University of Wisconsin Press, 2018
German scholars were early pioneers in folklore and historical linguistics. As the Nazis rose to power, however, these disciplines were distorted into racist pseudoscience. Under the direction of Heinrich Himmler's SS-Ahnenerbe (Ancestral Inheritance), folklore became a tool for constructing a unified German realm and a manufactured lineage from ancient and "pure" Germanic and Nordic blood.

Drawing on extensive research in public and private archives and interviews with family members of fieldworkers, James R. Dow uncovers both details of the SS cultural commissions' work and the continuing vestiges of the materials they assembled. Teams of poorly qualified and ideologically motivated collectors were sent to South Tyrol in Italy and Gottschee in Slovenian Yugoslavia, from which ethnically German communities were to be resettled in the German Reich. Although a mass of information on narratives, songs and dances, beliefs, customs, local clothing and architecture, and folk speech was collected, the research was deeply tainted and skewed by racialist and nationalist preconditions. Dow sharply critiques the continued use of these ersatz archives.

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J. Frank Dobie
A Liberated Mind
By Steven L. Davis
University of Texas Press, 2009

The first Texas-based writer to gain national attention, J. Frank Dobie proved that authentic writing springs easily from the native soil of Texas and the Southwest. In best-selling books such as Tales of Old-Time Texas, Coronado's Children, and The Longhorns, Dobie captured the Southwest's folk history, which was quickly disappearing as the United States became ever more urbanized and industrial. Renowned as "Mr. Texas," Dobie paradoxically has almost disappeared from view—a casualty of changing tastes in literature and shifts in social and political attitudes since the 1960s.

In this lively biography, Steven L. Davis takes a fresh look at a J. Frank Dobie whose "liberated mind" set him on an intellectual journey that culminated in Dobie becoming a political liberal who fought for labor, free speech, and civil rights well before these causes became acceptable to most Anglo Texans. Tracing the full arc of Dobie's life (1888–1964), Davis shows how Dobie's insistence on "free-range thinking" led him to such radical actions as calling for the complete integration of the University of Texas during the 1940s, as well as taking on governors, senators, and the FBI (which secretly investigated him) as Texas's leading dissenter during the McCarthy era.


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Lucky Joe's Namesake
The Extraordinary Life and Observations of Joe Wilson
Fred Bartenstein
University of Tennessee Press, 2017

Joe Wilson (1938-2015), a native of rural East Tennessee, was a civil rights activist, self-educated scholar, founder/administrator of nationally important roots music enterprises, and was legendary for his colorful writing and opinions. Lucky Joe’s Namesake, a companion to Roots Music in America: Collected Writings of Joe Wilson (also published by the University of Tennessee Press), brings us Wilson’s life and observations, mostly in his own words.

From humble mountain beginnings, Wilson’s career progressed through Nashville, Tennessee; Birmingham, Alabama; and New York City, before settling him for twenty-eight years near the seats of power in Washington, D.C. as the executive director of the National Council for the Traditional Arts. In that role, he developed a national model for folk festival presentations, stalked the halls of federal representatives seeking support for traditional artists, and filled concert venues throughout the world with audiences eager to experience the work of master folk musicians.  A powerful advocate on behalf of agrarian values, social justice, artistic authenticity, and cultural democracy, Joe wrote in an engaging, humorous, and memorable style.

This eclectic anthology is filled with Joe Wilson’s brilliant published writing for magazines, books, and newspapers as well as privately circulated unpublished works, including an extended autobiographical essay. Readers are sure to benefit from Wilson’s lessons and artful ruminations culled from a lifetime of devotion to music and cultural and social activism.

Fred Bartenstein teaches country and bluegrass music history at the University of Dayton. He is the editor of Bluegrass Bluesman: Josh Graves, a Memoir and coauthor and editor of The Bluegrass Hall of Fame: Inductee Biographies, 1991–2014.


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Stories of Our Lives
Memory, History, Narrative
Frank de Caro
Utah State University Press, 2013
In Stories of Our Lives Frank de Caro demonstrates the value of personal narratives in enlightening our lives and our world. We all live with legends, family sagas, and anecdotes that shape our selves and give meaning to our recollections. Featuring an array of colorful stories from de Caro’s personal life and years of field research as a folklorist, the book is part memoir and part exploration of how the stories we tell, listen to, and learn play an integral role in shaping our sense of self. 
De Caro’s narrative includes stories within the story: among them a near-mythic capture of his golden-haired grandmother by Plains Indians, a quintessential Italian rags-to-riches grandfather, and his own experiences growing up in culturally rich 1950s New York City, living in India amid the fading glories of a former princely state, conducting field research on Day of the Dead altars in Mexico, and coming home to a battered New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
Stories of Our Lives shows that our lives are interesting, and that the stories we tell—however particular to our own circumstances or trivial they may seem to others—reveal something about ourselves, our societies, our cultures, and our larger human existence.

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Toting the Lead Row
Ruby Pickens Tartt, Alabama Folklorist
Virginia Pounds Brown
University of Alabama Press, 1981

“You recall the expression ‘toting the lead row’, don’t you? In chopping cotton or corn there is always a leader, one who can chop the fastest of them all. When he finishes his row, he goes back and helps the other choppers finish theirs. The one who totes the lead row takes the lead place in the next row.”—Ruby Pickens Tartt

As a young woman growing up in Livingston in the Black Belt region of Alabama, Ruby Pickens Tartt developed a keen interest in the stories, songs, and folklore of rural blacks. Born in 1880, this remarkable woman lived through 94 years of dramatic change for blacks and whites alike.

She was certain that the very essence of her native Sumter County lay on the back roads, in the cabins hidden nearby, and with the black people who lived there. Their singing and their stories captivated her; the preservation of their heritage became life-long commitment.

In her collection work, including service with the WPA Writers’ Project, Ruby Pickens Tartt worked with and assisted other collectors of folklore, notably Carl Carmer and John Lomax; indeed, her Livingston home became a mecca for folklorists and writers. In helping them all, truly Mrs. Tartt was “toting the lead row”.

Toting the Lead Rowis divided into two major parts. The first is biographical and told in detail is her work during the Depression with the Federal Writers’ Project, collecting folk songs and life histories and gathering folklore. The second part contains selecting writings of Ruby Pickens Tartt: 18 life histories and stories and 12 slave narratives.


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The Undiscovered Country
Text, Translation, and Modernity in the Work of Yanagita Kunio
Melek Ortabasi
Harvard University Press, 2014

Yanagita Kunio (1875–1962) was a public intellectual who played a pivotal role in shaping modern Japan’s cultural identity. A self-taught folk scholar and elite bureaucrat, he promoted folk studies in Japan. So extensive was his role that he has been compared with the fabled Grimm Brothers of Germany and the great British folklorist James G. Frazer (1854–1941), author of The Golden Bough. This monograph is only the second book-length English-language examination of Yanagita, and it is the first analysis that moves beyond a biographical account of his pioneering work in folk studies.

An eccentric but insightful critic of Japan’s rush to modernize, Yanagita offers a compelling array of rebuttals to mainstream social and political trends in his carefully crafted writings. Through a close reading of Yanagita’s interdisciplinary texts, which comment on a wide range of key cultural issues that characterized the first half of Japan’s twentieth century, Melek Ortabasi seeks to reevaluate the historical significance of his work. Ortabasi’s inquiry simultaneously exposes, discursively, some of the fundamental assumptions we embrace about modernity and national identity in Japan and elsewhere.


front cover of Unlearning
Rethinking Poetics, Pandemics, and the Politics of Knowledge
Charles L. Briggs
Utah State University Press, 2021
A provocative theoretical synthesis by renowned folklorist and anthropologist Charles L. Briggs, Unlearning questions intellectual foundations and charts new paths forward. Briggs argues, through an expansive look back at his own influential works as well as critical readings of the field, that scholars can disrupt existing social and discourse theories across disciplines when they collaborate with theorists whose insights are not constrained by the bounds of scholarship.
Eschewing narrow Eurocentric modes of explanation and research foci, Briggs brings together colonialism, health, media, and psychoanalysis to rethink classic work on poetics and performance that revolutionized linguistic anthropology, folkloristics, media studies, communication, and other fields. Beginning with a candid memoir that credits the mentors whose disconcerting insights prompted him to upend existing scholarly approaches, Briggs combines his childhood experiences in New Mexico with his work in graduate school, his ethnography in Venezuela working with Indigenous peoples, and his contemporary work—which is heavily weighted in medical folklore.
Unlearning offers students, emerging scholars, and veteran researchers alike a guide for turning ethnographic objects into provocations for transforming time-worn theories and objects of analysis into sources of scholarly creativity, deep personal engagement, and efforts to confront unconscionable racial inequities. It will be of significant interest to folklorists, anthropologists, and social theorists and will stimulate conversations across these disciplines.

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Voodoo Priests, Noble Savages, and Ozark Gypsies
The Life of Folklorist Mary Alicia Owen
Greg Olson
University of Missouri Press, 2012

Folklorist Wayland Hand once called Mary Alicia Owen “the most famous American Woman Folklorist of her time.” Drawing on primary sources, such as maps, census records, court documents, personal letters and periodicals, and the scholarship of others who have analyzed various components of Owen’s multifaceted career, historian Greg Olson offers the most complete account of her life and work to date. He also offers a critical look at some of the short stories Owen penned, sometimes under the name Julia Scott, and discusses how the experience she gained as a fiction writer helped lead her to a successful career in folklore.

Olson begins with an in-depth look at St. Joseph, Missouri, the place where Owen lived most of her life. He explores the role that her grandparents and parents had in transforming the small trading village into one of the American West’s most exciting boomtowns. He also examines the family’s position of affluence and the effect that the devastation of the Civil War had on their family life and their standing within the community. He describes the interaction of Owen with her two younger sisters, both of whom had interesting and, for women of the time, unconventional careers.

Olson analyzes many of the nineteenth-century theories, stereotypes, and popular beliefs that influenced the work of Owen and many of her peers. By taking a cross-disciplinary look at her works of fiction, poetry, folklore, history, and anthropology, this volume sheds new light on elements of Owen’s career that have not previously been discussed in print. Examples of the romance stories that Owen wrote for popular magazines in the 1880’s are identified and examined in the context of the time in which Owen wrote them.

This groundbreaking biography shows that Owen was more than just a folklorist—she was a nineteenth-century woman of many contradictions. She was an independent woman of many interests who possessed a keen intellect and a genuine interest in people and their stories. Specialists in folklore, anthropology, women’s studies, local and regional history, and Missouriana will find much to like in this thoroughly researched study.

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Zora Neale Hurston
A Literary Biography
Robert E. Hemenway. Foreword by Alice Walker
University of Illinois Press, 1977

The life and work of the iconic author and intellectual

Zora Neale Hurston transformed each hour of her life into something bubbling, exuberant, and brimming with joy. Robert Hemenway’s biography is a towering portrait of the novelist, folklorist, and anthropologist. Drawing on archival documents and interviews with people who knew her, Hemenway explores Hurston’s art and work, from her extraordinary novels and autobiography to a popular treatment of black folkways that revealed her deep commitment to the black folk tradition. He also provides a sensitive look at her two marriages; her relationships with Mrs. R. Osgood Mason, Franz Boas, and Langston Hughes; her time as a member of the black literati of the 1920s and 1930s; and the penniless final years leading to her death.

Sophisticated and original, Zora Neale Hurston tells the compelling story of a woman who reveled in a fully lived life dedicated to a lasting art and the preservation of a vital cultural heritage.


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