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A Message to AFS Members from President Kay Turner

Tuesday, March 22, 2016   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Shannon K. Larson
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AFS President Kay Turner sent the following message to members on March 17, 2016:

Dear Society,

As your President for the next two years, I’ll write you an occasional letter, inviting your input on various initiatives I plan to introduce. I foresee an active term in office and one that requires an active Society to guide and help me do the best work I can accomplish in what already looks like a very short time. I want to frame my presidency as a collaborative, open dialogue with our whole membership. I invite you to be in touch with me and other members of our Executive Board about matters of importance to the Society.  

We look forward to an especially exciting annual meeting in Miami later this year. Our joint meeting with the International Society for Folk Narrative Research and our meeting theme, Unfinished Stories: Folklife and Folk Narrative at the Gateway of the Future, provide a perfect entrée for the most far-reaching initiative I propose: a multi-year emphasis on narrative and what folklore and folklorists can bring to what has become a widespread, popular cultural discussion about “stories” and their power. 

Perhaps more than any other single aspect of our discipline, the collection, study, and analysis of narrative arts, storytelling, and storytellers has been, since our inception as a discipline in the nineteenth century, the central gift of the field of folklore studies to the humanities and to the world. In this regard, the “unfinished story” of folklore is one that will, I hope, engage a broader public with our core contributions to the study and understanding of narrative arts of all kinds and in all arenas of our discipline, including the narrative dimensions of forms of folklore such as material culture, occupational lore, folk art, dance, and others that may not primarily be story-expressive. 

What I’m really counting on is the range of skills, sensitivity, and discernment that all trained folklorists can bring to this discussion, no matter where their primary research interests may lie. I’m certain the Miami meeting will be filled with stimulating and important discourse on story and narrative of all kinds. I encourage Society members to propose sessions that work the idea of “unfinished stories” in diverse and defining ways. I’ll use Miami as a kick-off for a narrative year, working with other organizations in the field to draw attention to folklore’s extensive history and concern with this centrally important subject.  

We couldn’t do this at a better time. A random sampling of my inbox tells me “How Stories Drive the Stock Market,” that Carrie Underwood’s new album is called The Storyteller, that Obama has been re-titled “the story teller-in-chief,” that an art auction house will hold a themed sale called “Art and Storytelling: Photographs and Photo Books,” that a new kind of video game aims at telling personal stories, and that I need to remember that “storytelling is what makes us human.” I’m sure you have your own examples to add; I’d be surprised if folklorists around the world have not taken note—whether dismayed or inspired—of the storied age we live in. Everyone’s a storyteller; it makes the Anthropoceneseem so cozy, doesn’t it? 

This story frenzy is driven primarily by the current hegemony of the “me” story made possible by and promoted across a dizzying array of web platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube, and on live personal story performance programs such as StoryCorps, Storyscapes, and The Moth. These afford limitless access to performing our own stories. Stories about individuals told from their point of view appear to rule the day. 

But that day is short. Folklore’s corrective to the current glut of disposable first-person narration engages us in an exploration of the performed story in its many distinct genres and cultural variations over hundreds of years. Ours is the very important disciplinary story of collecting, studying, presenting, and revealing the significance of collectively owned narratives of all kinds, the ones that give us the shareable world envisioned long ago in Aristotle’s Poetics and as recently as in our latest issue of JAF, titled “Big Folklore: A Special Issue on Computational Folkloristics.” I know that here Big Folklore plays on Big Data, but the term also inspires me to ask that you join me in doing some big folklore work together in the next few years. That work might help stimulate care for the shareable world we so certainly need to promote and preserve.

Let me hear from you!


Kay Turner, President, American Folklore Society

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