Academic journal article Western Folklore

New York State Folklife Reader: Diverse Voices

Academic journal article Western Folklore

New York State Folklife Reader: Diverse Voices

Article excerpt

New York State Folklife Reader: Diverse Voices. Edited by Elizabeth Tucker and Ellen McHale. (Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 2013. Pp. xvii + 263, introduction, photographs, listing of New York folklore archives, calendar of New York folk festivals, index. $55 hardbound.)

This attractive compilation of over twenty essays first published in the New York Folklore Society's quarterly, Voices: The Journal of New York Folklore, is organized into sections designed to appeal to the general reader as well as folklorists, researchers, educators, students and other cultural specialists. Its stated purpose is to "give folklore back to the people," through "life processes all New York residents share," which the editors have identified as memory, play, work, resistance, and food (xiv). Building on the philosophy of Louis C. Jones, a New York based folklorist, educator, and (like many of the folklorists and culture workers featured in this volume) activist, the editors note that the New York Folklore Society and its journal were and are "intended to reach not just the professional folklorists but those of the general public who were interested in the oral traditions of the State" (xiii). Full disclosure: I am an alumna of the SUNY Cooperstown Graduate Program in American Folk Culture, which Dr. Jones founded and directed.

The voices represented in New York State Folklife Reader range from the descendents of the earliest inhabitants of New York- Native Americans, specifically, the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) and Lenape-to recent immigrants, including dancers from South Sudan and young Mexican sonideros (DJs). Narrated along the way are the practices of New York City subway workers, African American fraternity members, stonemasons, Buddhist monks, Pakistani kite flyers, Polish butter lamb makers, and upstate hunters-just to name a few of the diverse cultures and genres represented. Interspersed with these portraits are thoughtful analyses of and by many of American folklore's most well known practitioners-Benjamin Botkin, Ruth Crawford Seeger, Pete Seeger, Bess Lomax Hawes, and Brian Suttton-Smith-along with other significant Americans, in particular Ralph Ellison, who, while not thought of as a folklorist, nonetheless based much of his creative work on folklore he collected for the Federal Writers Project in 1930s New York City. Each essay establishes a moment in time, framed by scholarship, documented through fieldwork, and, in the best examples, showcasing the actual voices of the subjects themselves. To paraphrase Steve Zeitlin's introduction to Barbara Meyerhoff's essay (39): all of the authors in this volume use the tools of ethnography to explore the familiar and to uncover ritual, community, and identity.

Black and white photographs, including the stunning cover image by Katrina Thomas of a Russian dancer "in lower Manhattan celebrating the American Bicentennial in 1976," provide a historical context in some cases, and leave the contemporary reader greedy for more-which is not necessarily a bad thing. …

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