An examination of how nineteenth- century African American folklore studies became a site of national debate
Before the innovative work of Zora
Neale Hurston, folklorists from the
Hampton Institute collected, studied,
and wrote about African American
folklore. Like Hurston, these folklorists
worked within but also beyond the
bounds of white mainstream institutions.
They often called into question
the meaning of the very folklore
projects in which they were engaged.
Shirley Moody-Turner analyzes
this output, along with the contributions
of a disparate group of African
American authors and scholars. She
explores how black authors and
folklorists were active participants—rather than passive observers—
in conversations about the politics of representing black folklore.
Examining literary texts, folklore documents, cultural performances,
legal discourse, and political rhetoric, Black Folklore and the
Politics of Racial Representation demonstrates how folklore studies
became a battleground across which issues of racial identity and
difference were asserted and debated at the turn of the twentieth
century. The study is framed by two questions of historical and
continuing import. What role have representations of black folklore
played in constructing racial identity? And, how have those ideas
impacted the way African Americans think about and creatively
engage black traditions?
Moody-Turner renders established historical facts in a new
light and context, taking figures we thought we knew—such as
Charles Chesnutt, Anna Julia Cooper, and Paul Laurence Dunbar—
and recasting their place in African American intellectual and
Shirley Moody-Turner, State College, Pennsylvania, is associate
professor of English and African American studies at Pennsylvania
State University. She is coeditor of Contemporary African American
Literature: The Living Canon. She has also published essays on
African American literature, race, and folklore in New Essays on
the African American Novel, A Companion to African American
Literature, and African American Review.
192 pages, 6 x 9 inches, 6 b&w illustrations, bibliography, index