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Folklore and Literature Section

The Folklore and Literature Section of the American Folklore Society is dedicated to the advancement of the study of folklore and literature. Together with the Folklore and Literature discussion group of the Modern Language Association, the Folklore and Literature Section meets annually at the AFS annual meeting to plan forum discussion and paper presentation sessions. We promote each other in this field of scholarly work and encourage the participation of new members. Dues for membership in this section are $10 annually.

To encourage exploration of folklore and literature theory, the Folklore and Literature Section sponsors annual paper panel and forum sessions at the annual American Folklore Society meeting. At the section meeting and during these panel and forum sessions, we discuss developments in folklore and literature and further investigate the relationship between the two fields. Our meetings provide an opportunity for the discussion of our work as folklorists and literary scholars. We are continually working to build a community of American Folklore Society members actively engaged in folklore and literature method and theory. Our joint meeting with the AFS@MLA section works to that end and fosters the exchange of ideas and resources among scholars working in both fields.

2014 Sponsored Panel: Folklore and Literature: Intertextual Representations of the American Midwest. Ohkay Ohwingeh, FRIDAY  10:15 – 12:00

The papers in this session explore the deeply intertextual, complicated spaces of a region too often represented as culturally neutral: the American Midwest. We present ways of reading texts from a folkloristic perspective that push us beyond identification, and indeed, beyond the text. Our work revels in this regional crossroads of America, approaching its literature from a myriad of intersecting byways: folklore, journalism, oral tradition, agricultural practices, ethnography, mass media, and fandom. As a whole, the panel seeks to offer up a compelling argument for the importance of an interdisciplinary approach to the study of folklore and literature.

Alina Dana Weber (The Florida State University): German “Wild West” Novels as Folkloric-Literary Fictions.  The presentation focuses on Friedrich Gerstäcker’s Arkansas’ Militia (1846) and Karl May’s Winnetou I (1893), two iconic novels of the Prairie and the Plains that belong to a popular trend of idealizing and exoticizing German literature about “America.” As I argue, both authors adopt the methods of oral story-tellers when they combine fairy-tale formulae with the conventions of adventure fiction, ethnography, and frontier reports. This mixture generates folkloric literature whose major characteristic is its paradoxical recourse to formulaic patterns and informational realism: to narrate the “cross-roads” of “America,” it seems, German authors stand at those of folklore, literature, and media.

Jess Lamar Reece Holler (University of Pennsylvania): Farming by Subscription: Regionalism, Ethnography, and Representing the Midwestern Farm Voice in Progressive-Era Agricultural Magazines.  This paper will take up the complicated legacies of regionalist writing in Midwestern agricultural magazines. These popular magazines supplied farmers with news, tips, and the latest science; but they also mediated networks of trust and expertise through local-color, first-person and ethnographic writing about Midwestern farm life.  I will consider how Progressive-era periodicals targeting Midwestern farmers quoted, invited and invented a Midwestern agricultural and rural vernacular to represent and constitute their audiences.  Finally, I will look ahead to post-Dust Bowl Midwestern farm reformers like Ohio's Louis Bromfield, who repurposed farm writing and agricultural regionalism in pursuit of a conservation ethos.

Todd Richardson (University of Nebraska at Omaha) The Moral Economy of Willa Cather Fans in the Early Twenty-first Century . My paper investigates the fandom associated with Willa Cather and her writing, in particular the localization of this fandom in the author’s home town of Red Cloud, NE. Using interviews, archival materials and readings of Cather’s fiction and personal correspondence, I trace the successes, difficulties and ironies of a community that has dedicated itself to the public celebration of a deeply private person. In the process, I address the longstanding tension between the agendas of Cather “scholars” and Cather “enthusiasts,” connecting this conflict to larger debates about the value of the humanities in postmodernity. 

Shelley Ingram (University of Louisiana at Lafayette). And a Fish Slid Down His Pants: Regional Fiction and the Study of Folklore and Literature, from Hamlin Garland to Jonathan Franzen. After assigning Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections in a class on folklore and literature, the class’s initial response was two-fold: the book was not ‘folk’ enough, and it was not regionalist fiction, despite its setting. This paper addresses such responses by examining the role of “regionalist fiction” in the study of folklore and literature, tracing the impulse to look for folklore in the texts of “others” and then connecting that impulse to a perception of the Midwest as culturally neutral. By looking closely at texts and contexts of Mid/Western literature, we can see the complicated un-neutral intertextual spaces its writers create.


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