Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Voodoo Priests, Noble Savages, and Ozark Gypsies: The Life of Folklorist Mary Alicia Owen

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Voodoo Priests, Noble Savages, and Ozark Gypsies: The Life of Folklorist Mary Alicia Owen

Article excerpt

Voodoo Priests, Noble Savages, and Ozark Gypsies: The Life of Folklorist Mary Alicia Owen. By Greg Olson. Missouri Biography Series. (Columbia and London: University of Missouri Press, 2012. Pp. [xii], 171. $30.00, ISBN 978-0-8262-1996-1.)

Greg Olson's biography of Mary Alicia Owen (1850-1935) offers an in-depth and thoroughly contextualized account of the folklorist's life and work in Missouri. Working from numerous primary sources alongside secondary studies, Olson gives the reader a prismatic view of the world that influenced Owen's scholarly pursuits as a folklorist of African American hoodoo rituals and ceremonies, an ethnographer of Missouri native cultures, and a writer of fiction drawn from the stories she learned from her consultants in the field. Olson is quick to point out the flawed assumptions regarding race that informed Owen's work, and he makes no apologies for her troubling (and

all too common) conclusions about so-called vanishing Indians. Rather than cordon off Owen's fictional writings from her anthropological pursuits, Olson makes a compelling case for how narrative fiction influenced Owen as she attempted to understand the stories, ceremonies, and histories she recorded. Rightly so, then, Olson's own interdisciplinary approach is best suited for recovering the significance of Owen's contributions to a variety of contemporary fields such as African American studies, anthropology, ethnohistory, folklore, literary studies, and Native American studies.

The biography moves chronologically from the history of Owen's family in the context of St. …

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