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AFS Review: Featured Folklorist

Featured Folklorist: Elizabeth Tucker (Binghamton University and Mountainview College)

Thursday, July 12, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Rosalind V. Rini Larson

Elizabeth Tucker is Distinguished Service Professor of English at Binghamton University and the Collegiate Professor at Mountainview College.


Please provide some information about your current work, education, and participation in AFS.

I received my BA in English from Mount Holyoke College, my MA in English from Buffalo State College, and my PhD in Folklore from Indiana University. Other valuable parts of my education were my Fulbright year in Munich and my Peace Corps service in the Ivory Coast, West Africa. Since 1977 I have been a member of the English Department at Binghamton University; I began as an Assistant Professor and am now Distinguished Service Professor of English. As a member and Fellow of the American Folklore Society, I have given papers, organized panels, and helped to launch the Children’s Folklore Section. I have especially enjoyed being a mentor to young folklorists at AFS meetings and have also served as a manuscript reviewer and indexer for the Journal of American Folklore.


What is your current job, and how does it relate to the field of folklore? What kinds of things do you do day-to-day in this position?

At Binghamton University, I teach folklore classes and participate in university committees, including Graduate Council and the selection committee for Harpur Fellowships. My areas of specialization include children’s and adolescents’ folklore, folklore of the supernatural, and legends. Besides being a professor, I have worked with students and staff members of three residential communities on campus in a position that was originally called Faculty Master and is now called Collegiate Professor. This position involves working with Residential Life staff members to plan educational programs for students, as well as offering academic advising and spending time with students in various other ways. Currently I’m the Collegiate Professor of Mountainview College, which has a large “Makerspace” where students can make jewelry, use 3D printers, compose music, sew, work on engineering projects, and do other things. I have been planning fiber arts workshops, faculty lectures, and a bus trip to New York City. My experience as a folklorist has been valuable in doing this work, not only because of the listening skills that we all develop but also because of emphasis on folk arts. It was especially helpful to be a member of NYSCA’s grant review committee, which gave me the opportunity to learn about all the wonderful work that folklorists and folk artists are doing around New York State.

Left: Photo of Elizabeth Tucker (blue hat) with schoolchildren in Inner Mongolia during AFS's summer institute in 2016.

How does your current work impact your community? What is, in your mind, the most important professional contribution that you make (or have made)?

As a folklorist, I have tried to help students become aware of the rich traditions of their home towns, their university campus, and other parts of the world. Besides teaching undergraduate students, I have chaired and been a committee member of dissertations that are related to folklore. It has been especially rewarding to work with MA and PhD students in creative writing. Because our university has a University Readiness Program for Chinese students, I had the opportunity to teach in Zhenjiang, China a few years ago; later I taught at Inner Mongolia Normal University as a member of the American Folklore Society’s Summer Institute. It has been a pleasure to share results of my research through publication. I have written six books—Campus Legends: A Handbook (2005), Haunted Halls: Ghostlore of American College Campuses (2007), Children’s Folklore: A Handbook (2008), Haunted Southern Tier (2011), New York State Folklife Reader: Diverse Voices, co-edited with Ellen McHale (2013), and Legend Trips: A Contemporary Legend Casebook, co-edited with Lynne McNeill (2018)—and about 90 articles. I have also edited several journals, including New York Folklore and Children’s Folklore Review, and served as president of the International Society for Contemporary Legend Research and the Children’s Folklore Section of the American Folklore Society, as well as an executive board member of the New York Folklore Society. For a number of years I’ve written a column on ghost stories for Voices: The Journal of the New York Folklore Society, and I am about to begin writing a column for the International Journal of Play.


What sorts of issues are most pressing or urgent for your community? How do your personal or professional endeavors intersect with these issues?

Humbly following in the footsteps of Louis C. Jones, I have tried to make residents of my community/region aware of the treasure trove of legends that characterizes this area. Every year I give talks about folklore of the supernatural for student and community organizations, including regional historical societies, senior citizens’ groups, and libraries. I have also given talks about folk crafts that are typical of this area.


How did you come to reside where you now live? What are your favorite aspects of the area or of your local community?

After several years of residence in the city of Binghamton, I moved to Vestal, a rural town that has many beautiful natural areas. People are very friendly here. Frequent farmers’ markets, First Friday art walks, ethnic festivals, and other special events make this a fantastic place to live, especially in the summer. In the winter we sometimes have epic snowstorms; one storm in March of 2017 amounted to three and a half feet.


Right: Photo of Elizabeth (far right) with Faculty Fellows at a faculty/student dinner.


What do you most wish outsiders knew about your community? What are some common stereotypes or misconceptions that you often find yourself trying to disprove?

Although there is a regional stereotype of central New York being rather slow-paced and quiet, there is much going on here. I wish more of my colleagues at the university appreciated this area more, rather than thinking of New York City as the main place where exciting things happen. Some of them, however, enjoy the Binghamton/Vestal area as much as I do. It’s a wonderful place to live, do research, and raise a family.


What question(s) would you like us to ask of other “featured folklorists”? Please provide your own answer to the question.

I would like to suggest that everyone answer the question “How did you choose to become a folklorist?” I decided to go into this field after attending a lecture/song performance by Lydia Fish at Buffalo State University. The following semester, I was very lucky to have Lydia as my independent study professor. She taught me about the field and encouraged me to apply to Indiana University. After two years of service in the Peace Corps in West Africa, I did, and I have been enchanted by the field of folklore ever since. I will always remember Buffalo as the place where I discovered folklore and got to know Lydia Fish and Bruce Jackson, who have done so much to nurture the field.

I’d also like to add one more question, with thanks to Lorraine for suggesting it: “What would you do differently at the beginning of your career, if you knew what you know now?” If I had a chance to advise my younger self, I would encourage her to be confident and not to worry too much about problems that come up. Before I came to Binghamton, a friend who had recently become an English professor said, “I have some important advice for you. No matter what subjects you’re interested in, you should publish articles about folklore in relation to literature, because that’s all your department will care about.” He was wrong! I didn’t disregard my own research interests and published books and articles on subjects that mattered to me. My English colleagues and I learned to appreciate each other’s specializations, and we worked together on projects of mutual interest.


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