STEVE ZEITLIN, Executive Director, City Lore, New York, New York
As a candidate at this year’s meeting in Nashville, I can still recall fondly driving through the rain with Jack Santino and Mick Moloney to my first AFS meeting in 1973 in Nashville. I also met my wife Amanda at AFS meetings, so I guess I’ve been around long enough. I have a PhD in folklore from Penn, and am the founding director of City Lore. With collaboration and advocacy at its heart, I’ve worked with the Municipal Art Society for Place Matters, Poets House to bring folk and literary poets together for the People’s Poetry Gathering, El Museo del Barrio and the New York Historical Society for the exhibit Nueva York, even with Science Museums for a new initiative on digital learning; and we’re advocates for street performers and ethnic social clubs (see www.citylore.org; www.placematters.net; and our story map of NYC www.cityofmemory.org.) My books include A Celebration of American Family Folklore (Pantheon Books, l982, with Amy Kotkin and Holly Cutting Baker); The Grand Generation: Memory Mastery and Legacy (U. of Washington Press, l987, with Marjorie Hunt and Mary Hufford); City Play (Rutgers University Press, l990, with Amanda Dargan); Because God Loves Stories: An Anthology of Jewish Storytelling (Simon & Schuster, 1997. Research projects include a study of improvised poetry duels in the Americas with my wife, folklorist Amanda Dargan. My documentary films include Free Show Tonight on the Traveling Medicine shows with Paul Wagner, and I am currently coproducing DeAf Jam about American Sign Language poets for public television, and Let’s Get the Rhythm on girls’ handclapping games, directed by Irene Chagall. Over the past few years, I am proud to have played a role in establishing the Archie Green Award, honoring individuals who have contributed to our field from outside the Society. I was inspired to come to Penn by Kenny Goldstein who told me that folklore is a religion and we are all its missionaries. And I am honored to run against his accomplished daughter Diane, who would also make a wonderful president.
As a former board member, my perception is that AFS is in solid shape, probably better than the field. The organization has a strong executive director, the beginnings of a significant endowment, relatively secure finances, and a successful track record of special initiatives and grants. If elected, I would draw on the Society’s strengths to address the following needs:
*Diversify the Society. AFS could provide annual funds to sections, such as the African American Section, to collectively host one plenary at AFS each year, bringing scholars to engage with us on an annual basis.
*Making AFS a more activist Society, engaged with the issues of the day. I will work to have position statements on the AFS web site on subjects such as the impact of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on traditional cultures and the impact of environmental issues on traditional practices.
*Collaboration across disciplines. Barre Toelken once told me that he felt that folklore is by its nature a collaborative field. As President, I would urge the Society to collaborate with other disciplines both on joint meetings and special projects.
*Establish a Cultural Heritage funding category at NEH. I would enlist the support of the Society to work through Congress to urge NEH to establish a category of grants that address cultural heritage issues. The track record of folklore at NEH, with funding categories such as "Landmarks in American History,” is sporadic. Nothing would benefit both the public sector and the academy more than an NEH program designed support initiatives in our nation’s living cultural heritage.
3/10/2017 » 3/12/2017
Midwestern Consortium of Ancient Religions