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Botkin Folklife Lecture Premiere: Steve Zeitlin

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

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.

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:



“Show the Girls the Snakes!” – Watch as The Kitchen Sisters and Frances McDormand Charm the Library of Congress

The American Folklife Center was delighted to relaunch our in-person Botkin Lectures on September 15 with a major event in the Coolidge Auditorium here at the Library of Congress. The evening presentation, which was part of the Live! At the Library series, featured the renowned documentarians The Kitchen Sisters (Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva) in conversation with their friend and collaborator, the Academy-Award-winning actor Frances McDormand.  Fortunately, if you were unable to attend — or you want to hear it again – the entire event was recorded on video, and you can watch it right in this blog post!

Live Botkin Lectures Return to the Library with Martha Cooper September 7

The American Folklife Center is pleased to announce the return of live events in our Benjamin Botkin Folklife Lecture Series!  The first onsite Botkin lecture in over two years will be Wednesday, September 7, at 4:00 pm in the Whittall Pavilion, and will feature the renowned documentary photographer Martha Cooper.

The Kitchen Sisters and Frances McDormand Live at the Library of Congress September 15

The American Folklife Center is delighted to announce a live program at the Library of Congress:
Live! at the Library: The Kitchen Sisters with Frances McDormand
Stories from the B Side of History
Presented by Carla Hayden, Librarian of Congress
September 15, 2022, 6:30-8:30 p.m.
Library of Congress, Coolidge Auditorium

This event is part of the Live! at the Library series and the Benjamin Botkin Folklife Lecture Series.

Admission is free, but attendees must secure tickets at the link provided in this blog post. All the info is in the post!

Botkin Folklife Lectures Plus: Camille Moreddu on French American Traditions

This post features a lecture by Camille Moreddu, a cultural historian from France who is studying what she calls the “French Creole Corridor,” French-speaking communities, primarily in the Upper Midwest, which retained fascinating French music and song recorded by collectors in the 20th and 21st centuries. In her lecture. Moreddu reviews the repertoire found in these and related collections–from Great Lakes voyageurs’ songs and French-Canadian fiddle tunes to the ballads, winter ritual songs, and local songs of the Creole settlements of the Upper Mississippi River Valley. She also discusses methods and experiences of the different collectors; the histories of colonial era Francophone settlers as well as later immigrants from France, Belgium, and Canada; and how the French cultural presence was integrated into the narrative and historiography of the American frontier. We also conducted a brief question and answer session with Moreddu, and appended it to the lecture video itself. Moreddu kindly did her lecture twice–once in English and once in French–to make it as accessible as possible to people with an interest in these collections, and we did the Q & A in both languages too!

Fieldwork During the Pandemic: Upcoming Online Lectures July 13 & 20

The American Folklife Center is happy to announce a two-part series of hour-long online Zoom presentations with live Q&A featuring recent and current Archie Green Fellows discussing the impact of the pandemic on their fieldwork experiences. We’re calling the event Occupational Folklife and Fieldwork in the Post-Pandemic World: Adaptation, Innovation, and the Future, Parts 1 & 2.  Registration is required, but don’t worry…you’ll find the registration links down near the bottom of this post!

Billy Bragg, Skiffle Historian and Singer, Visits the Library July 21

This blog post about the singer-songwriter Billy Bragg is part of a series called “Hidden Folklorists,” which examines the folklore work of surprising people, including people better known for other pursuits. Billy Bragg will be here for a book talk, July 21 at 7:00 pm in the Mumford Room of the James Madison Memorial Building. […]

Alan Jabbour 1942 – 2017

On behalf of the American Folklife Center, I’m very sad to pass on the news of the death of our founding director, Alan Jabbour. Alan was a folklorist, fiddler, fieldworker, and friend of the highest caliber, and he will be missed at AFC and around the world. AFC’s current director, Betsy Peterson, expressed the feelings […]

Thoughts on Martin Luther King Day

On Monday, January 19, we will be celebrating the Birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. in the United States. King, the foremost leader of the American Civil Rights Movement, was actually born eighty-six years ago today: January 15, 1929.  The Civil Rights Movement has struggled and continues to struggle for equal rights for all people, […]