Before the innovative work of Zora Neale Hurston, folklorists from the Hampton Institute collected, studied, and wrote about African American folklore. Like Hurston, these folklorists worked within but also beyond the bounds of white mainstream institutions. They often called into question the meaning of the very folklore projects in which they were engaged.
Shirley Moody-Turner analyzes this output, along with the contributions of a disparate group of African American authors and scholars. She explores how black authors and folklorists were active participants—rather than passive observers—in conversations about the politics of representing black folklore. Examining literary texts, folklore documents, cultural performances, legal discourse, and political rhetoric, Black Folklore and the Politics of Racial Representation demonstrates how folklore studies became a battleground across which issues of racial identity and difference were asserted and debated at the turn of the twentieth century. The study is framed by two questions of historical and continuing import. What role have representations of black folklore played in constructing racial identity? And, how have those ideas impacted the way African Americans think about and creatively engage black traditions?
Moody-Turner renders established historical facts in a new light and context, taking figures we thought we knew—such as Charles Chesnutt, Anna Julia Cooper, and Paul Laurence Dunbar—and recasting their place in African American intellectual and cultural history.
In The Press
Black Folklore and the Politics of Racial Representation represents an important addition to the histories of American folklore studies, illuminating too-long-overlooked intellectual contributions from our field's nascency, yet it will also appeal to ethnographers and others interested in the representation of folklore in the twenty-first century. . . . Moreover, literary theorists, especially those working with folklore, will likewise find the book invigorating and insightful.
About The Author
Shirley Moody-Turner is associate professor of English and African American studies at Pennsylvania State University. She is coeditor of Contemporary African American Literature: The Living Canon and has published articles and essays on black folklore and African American literature in African American Review, MELUS, Journal of Southern History, MLA Approaches to Teaching Charles W. Chesnutt, Oxford Bibliographies Online, and A Companion to African American Literature.