From Two Scholars, African-American Folk Tales for the Next GenerationHistorians in the News
tags: Henry Louis Gates Jr, Maria Tatar, The Annotated African American Folktales
When Robert Weil, the editor in chief and publishing director of Liveright, approached Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Maria Tatar with the idea of putting together “The Annotated African American Folktales,” the two Harvard professors responded with a mix of excitement and trepidation. The world of black lore is geographically expansive and substantively diverse. But Mr. Weil was convinced that the two scholars were up to the task.
“I just felt in my bones that if they could combine their backgrounds, they could create an extraordinary, but also historically important, work,” he said.
So Mr. Weil connected the two over email and took a step back, giving them the space to research and think through the details.
“The question we both asked ourselves was why African-American folklore vanished,” said Ms. Tatar, a professor of folklore and mythology who has edited annotated volumes of the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen stories. For decades, African-American folklore failed to capture mainstream attention and remained in a perpetually precarious position, always on the verge of being lost. Mr. Gates and Ms. Tatar wanted to change that.
“Maria brought an impressive unique knowledge of the history of folk tales,” Mr. Gates said. And “I brought my knowledge of African-American vernacular tradition.” ...
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