The Folklore Muse: Poetry, Fiction, and Other Reflections by Folklorists

The Folklore Muse: Poetry, Fiction, and Other Reflections by Folklorists

The Folklore Muse: Poetry, Fiction, and Other Reflections by Folklorists

The Folklore Muse: Poetry, Fiction, and Other Reflections by Folklorists


Folklorethe inherently creative expression, transmission, and performance of cultural traditionshas 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.


Folklorists perform signal service to American culture, although seldom are they celebrated for doing so. Finding, recording, and presenting traditions that might otherwise remain known only to a subculture or a small region; making verbal art less ephemeral in the historical and social record; trying to understand the vernacular contexts of the nation; bringing to wider awareness the arts and expressions that are self-made and community-made by those who are not our aesthetic and intellectual elites: these undertakings might be called the folklorist’s endeavor.

This endeavor requires discovery—of communities and individuals who have created and preserved the traditional songs or stories or rituals or customs that may be little known to or comprehended by a larger world. To establish understandings and to make better known their discoveries, folklorists communicate with that larger world through lectures, documentary films, broadcasts, and public presentations and exhibitions, but—historically at least—particularly through writing and publishing, concentrating on both books for a popular audience and specialized journal articles for fellow scholars. Folklorists’ writing may be diverse, but mostly it has been descriptive and analytical, focused on presenting the creativity of others—transcriptions of songs and stories, descriptions of folk performers, delineations of folk heroes and events—or has dissected the meanings of vernacular forms. It is prose which, at times, has been scholarly or claimed as scientific; it certainly has been ethnographic and explanatory.

This book presents folklorists’ writing of quite a different kind: not ethnographies and analyses, but poetry, fiction, memoirs, and informal essays—their “other reflections.”

In recent years, folklorists, along with others in the social sciences, have moved toward new modes of discourse. That folklorists have sometimes been talented and creatively inclined performers may have helped to stimulate this trend. in general, social scientists increasingly have become reflexive and self-reflective—more aware of the subjectivity inherent in their work and of how much they insert themselves into their ethnography and their socio-cultural analyses. in their professional writing they have been more willing in recent days to speak of the “I,” their personal involvement with those they study, and the impacts their involvements have had. Such awareness inevitably has led to more creative and informal kinds of writing and certainly has been a factor in leading to poetry and fiction as writing that can express ideas about people and cultures encountered in the course of study.

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