In Folklore courses, writers encounter oral and material traditions that serve as both roots and wings for them: myths, folktales, fairy tales, Native American coyote tales, riddles, word magic, ghost and fairy legends, contemporary legends, folksongs and ballads, family folklore, foodways, roadside memorials, and so much more. Most folklore courses offer MFA students the opportunity to write papers that include their creative writing.
ENGH 590 Topics in Folk Narrative: Folktale, Fairytale, and Myth | Fall 2012| Margaret Yocom
“I would ask you to remember this one thing. The stories people tell have a way of taking care of them. If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive.”
-- Barry Lopez, Crow and Weasel
“It’s just a story” some say. But there’s not a day goes by that we don’t tell some kind of story. And stories have a way of staying with us. What are stories, truly, and why do we tell them? What happens in those moments when we are lost in the web of someone’s words as they tell us a tale? After all, during protests and revolutions, people have often used traditional materials to carry their messages. And, when individuals have reached for larger personal freedoms and fought to publicly express issues of their own racial, gendered, and sexual identities, they often tell a story or two. How have people used stories to create a sense of self and a sense of place for themselves? How do people subvert, reject, transform the negative judgments they receive? Using the lenses of performance study, phenomenology, and feminist studies, we’ll explore the twists and turns of the traditional oral tale and develop several ways of understanding what lies beneath their deceptively simple surface. We’ll consider mythological tales, folktales, stories commonly referred to as “fairytales, and contemporary legends. Finally, we’ll consider how storytelling can be applied in educational, therapeutic, spiritual, and conflict resolution practices.
Assignments include experiential exercises, in-class presentations, one short paper, semester project. MFA students may complete a portfolio assignment that combines creative writing and folktales.
Texts include readings from a variety of cultures: Tatar, The Classic Fairy Tales; Toelken & Evers, Native American Oral Tradition; Narayan, Mondays on the Dark Night of the Moon: Himalayan Foothills Folktales; McCarthy, Jack in Two Worlds; and more.
[All ENGH folklore courses fulfill a Department of English literature requirement]
ENGH 415/ENGH 591 Folk Arts, Folk Artists | Fall 2012| Margaret Yocom
Franz Kafka has famously said that a book is an ax for the frozen sea within. How more accurate to see any artwork as a portal of a kind through which we step, like Alice through the looking-glass, into worlds not our own and unimaginable by us, conjoining ourselves with persons not known to us.
-- Joyce Carol Oates, “The Writing Life: Tales Out of School” Washington Post, 16 March 1997
Artworks such as quilts and carvings, masks and costumes, festive foodways and treasured mementos do provide portals to worlds unimaginable to us, but they also enable us to re-envision those worlds we’ve grown up into and think we know well. To learn about traditional creativity and the forms it takes we’ll explore the lives and works of traditional artists. Why do members of our families hold fast to particular foods year after year? Why do we treasure mementos that have no worldly value and decorate our home altars and computer stands with them? What prompts European, African, Inuit, and Native American women to pick up their needles and create bursts of color with swatches of cloth? What propels a Vietnam War veteran to sculpt and paint scenes of the battles he’s survived? Why would a Maine woodsman spend his off-hours chain-saw-carving images of miniature loggers and giant bears? Why assemble a collage of flowers, signs, and personal items at a site along the road where a person died in an accident, or on a field near the Pentagon, September 2001?
In our semester together, we’ll use the lenses of biography and literature to explore the aesthetic characteristics, the communal bases, the tug of memory and tradition, and the behavioral and political impulses intrinsic to traditional arts and artists.
Texts include Neustadt, Clambake: A History and Celebration of an American Tradition; Chittenden, Vietnam Remembered: The Folk Art of Marine Veteran Michael D. Cusino; Turner, Beautiful Necessity: The Art and Meaning of Women’s Altars as well as related articles, poems, short stories, and films. Requirements include take-home examination questions, class discussion, and a semester project. MFA students may submit a portfolio for their semester project.
[FML] [CS][All ENGH folklore and ethnography courses fulfill a Department of English literature requirement]
Additional Opportunities in Folklore