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Seminar: American Magic: The Fates of Folk & Fairy Tales in the Appalachians
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6/9/2011 to 6/12/2011
When: 6/9/2011
7:30 PM
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West Virginia University 2011 Summer Seminar in Literary and Cultural Studies

"American Magic: The Fates of Folk & Fairy Tales in the Appalachians”

Seminar Leader:Carl LindahlMartha Gano Houstoun Research Professor of English and Folklore, University of Houston

June 9-12, 2011

Sponsored by:Department of EnglishEberly College of Arts and Sciencesand West Virginia University

The Europeans who migrated to the Appalachians in the 18th century brought with them extensive traditions of oral fiction, including the märchen, the oral equivalent of the literary fairy tale. By the 19th century, the Europeans who had stayed behind were drawing upon oral works to fashion a new literature: the tales of the Brothers Grimm (first ed., 1812) inspired imitators throughout the continent. In the United States, however, oral fiction went underground, and it was not until 1943 that the first anthology of British-American fairy tales (Richard Chase’s The Jack Tales) appeared. This American anthology was based exclusively on performances by Appalachian narrators; since the book’s appearance, notions of an American märchen tradition have centered on Appalachia.

This seminar addresses several issues in the history and conceptions of Appalachian oral fiction. Why did American märchen go almost totally undocumented for two centuries, between the time it was first attested and the publication of The Jack Tales? Why did American märchen collectors concentrate almost exclusively upon male narrators and tales in which the protagonists were males? Why has the collection and study of märchen thrived in Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia, but not in fifth core Appalachian state, West Virginia? Most importantly, what is the nature of the märchen tradition as it has actually been practiced, and largely ignored, in recent generations?

To assess Appalachia’s oral märchen traditions, the seminar will draw upon the collections of Leonard W. Roberts (1912-1983), who assembled the nation’s largest corpus of field-recorded märchen (now housed at Berea College) as well as Lindahl’s own collection, recorded in the same region where Roberts worked and sometimes from the same narrators whom Roberts recorded. The vast majority of Roberts’s published tales were recorded in southeastern Kentucky near the Virginia border, but Roberts conducted substantial unpublished research at West Virginia Wesleyan University, and that work will be discussed in the seminar. Seminar participants will read historical and critical pieces by Bill Ellis, Carl Lindahl, W.B. McCarthy, Charles Perdue, Joseph Sobel, and others, as well as published tales, including Chase’s literary Jack Tales and Roberts’s South from Hell-fer-Sartin, his earliest and most extensive print collection of oral märchen. We will also read unpublished transcriptions of oral märchen and listen to audio-recorded tales.

Seminar Leader: Carl Lindahl is a Fellow of the American Folklore Society, a Fulbright Distinguished Scholar, a Folklore Fellow of the Finnish Academy of Sciences, and a specialist in folk narrative, medieval folklore, folktales and legends, festivals and celebrations, folklore fieldwork, traditional healing strategies, and ways in which folk cultures seek and exercise covert power. In 2005 he founded Surviving Katrina and Rita in Houston, the world’s first project in which disaster survivors have taken the lead in documenting fellow survivors’ experience of disaster. He currently serves on the Executive Board of the American Folklore Society and the editorial Board of Fabula: Journal of Folktale Studies. His published work on Appalachian folktales appears primarily in two of his books: Perspectives on the Jack Tales (2001) and American Folktales from the Collections of the Library of Congress (2004). He has also published essays of Appalachian narrators and narratives in Fabula, Encyclopedia of Appalachia, Journal of American Folklore, Journal of Folklore Research, New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, and Western Folklore, and the book Jack in Two Worlds (edited by W.B. McCarthy), among other venues. Format: The seminar will begin with a public lecture at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 9th and conclude at noon on Sunday, June 12th. There are five, two-hour sessions during the seminar. By mid-May, registered participants will be provided with a list of readings to be completed before arrival at the seminar.

Seminar Site: West Virginia University is located in scenic north central West Virginia about 75 miles south of Pittsburgh, PA and 200 miles west of Washington, DC. Housing will be available on campus, and one local hotel is close by for those who prefer non-dormitory housing.

Registration fees: Graduate Students, $250; Faculty, $350.

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