African American Folklore
“I love to sail forbidden seas,” Ishmael proclaims in Moby-Dick, and with those words he captured the driving desires of heroes enshrined in the pantheon of American literature. That longing was nowhere more powerfully alive than in slave cabins, with songs and stories about surviving, strategizing, and breaking loose to freedom. Right alongside a robust oral frontier storytelling tradition and an expansive American literary culture was another storytelling tradition, one rarely written down, for it remained private and in the vernacular rather than public and literary. Oppositional and subversive rather than celebrated and enshrined as authoritative, these were the stories invented by African Americans. We will explore African lore and African American tales, along with Creole and Caribbean stories, as well as stories from The Southern Workman and The Brownies’ Book.
Maria Tatar teaches at Harvard University in the German Department, and in the Program in Folklore and Mythology. Her many books include Enchanted Hunters: The Power of Stories in Childhood and Off with Their Heads! Fairy Tales and the Culture of Childhood. She is the editor and translator of The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales, The Annotated Hans Christian Andersen, The Annotated Brothers Grimm, The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales, The Annotated Peter Pan, The Classic Fairy Tales: A Norton Critical Edition, The Grimm Reader, Annotated African American Folktales, and Beauty and the Beast: Classic Tales about Animal Brides and Animal Grooms.