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Head and shoulders portrait of Steve Zeitlin
Steve Zeitlin. Photo courtesy of Steve Zeitlin

Botkin Folklife Lecture Premiere: Steve Zeitlin

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Steve Zeitlin
The Poetry of Everyday Life: Reflections of an Urban Folklorist

Welcome to a video premiere in the Benjamin Botkin Folklife Lecture Series! This lecture features folklorist Steve Zeitlin, the founding director of City Lore, one of America’s leading research centers for the documentation of urban folklife and grassroots culture. You’ll find the video embedded below! In his lecture, Steve eloquently reflects on his career, recounts some of his most meaningful projects, and discusses the relationship of folklore to everyday language and speech in contemporary America. Drawing on his experiences as both a folklorist and a poet, he discusses how colloquial speech and shared verbal art forms like poetry work to preserve cultural heritage and create community in a complex metropolitan landscape like New York and, more broadly, throughout 21st-century America.

Steve Zeitlin received a Ph.D. in folklore from the University of Pennsylvania, and an M.A. in literature from Bucknell University, is the founding director of City Lore, a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of cultural heritage. Focused on New York City, but with numerous projects of national and international scope, City Lore works with grassroots communities to ensure their living legacy in stories and histories, places and traditions are documented and maintained.

Steve Zeitlin poses with Russian nesting dolls. The image includes the words: Library of Congress American Folklife Center, Benjamin Botkin 2022 folklife lecture series, Steve Zeitlin, The Poetry of Everyday Life: Reflections of an urban folklorist.
Steve Zeitlin

City Lore’s notable programs include Place Matters, the People’s Hall of Fame, and the POEMobile, which projects poems on to buildings in tandem with live readings and performances. Among other accolades, in 2007, Steve received the Benjamin Botkin Award from the American Folklore Society for lifetime achievement in public folklore.

Throughout his career, Steve’s intense interest in folklore has been matched by his interest in collecting and writing poetry. His numerous publications including authoring and co-authoring such classic folklore books as A Celebration of American Family Folklore; The Grand Generation; and City Play. His career as a poet includes publications in Rolling Stone magazine, Literary Review East, the volume I Hear American Singing in the Rain and, with poet Bob Holman, The Poetry of Everyday Life.

On behalf of the entire American Folklife Center and our Director, Nicki Saylor, I am delighted to add that the City Lore archive, amassed over the last 40 years by Steve, his wife Amanda Dargan and numerous other folklorists and ethnomusicologists, has recently been acquired by the American Folklife Center. With its acquisition, Steve’s work and the work of his colleagues will be available to all here at the Library of Congress.

Find Steve Zeitlin’s Botkin Lecture video below:



  1. Wonderful to see, Steve! A well-deserved honor!

    And love to know exactly to whom you sent that seminal long-ago happiness letter?

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