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The American Folklife Center: 2022 in Review

As 2022 draws to a close, we at the American Folklife Center want to take time to reflect on a year devoted to deepening our commitment to community-centered stewardship, adapting to hybrid work and planning for the future. The year was marked by the Library’s return to full onsite operations, leadership transitions, and moves to new public and staff spaces that make way for the transformation of the Jefferson Building. The year brought waves of change and staff rose to the challenge. Read about the year’s highlights in this blog post from AFC’s new director!

The Truth Behind the Hanukkah Dreidel: Metafolklore, Play, and Spin

Hanukkah this year will be celebrated from December 18 to December 26. Jewish children all over the world will be playing a gambling game with a traditional spinning top known as a dreidel. Many of them will also be told stories about the origin and meaning of the dreidel, stories which claim that the dreidel once had a subversive purpose or that it was created to commemorate a great miracle. These stories are themselves interesting folklore. Since the dreidel is a traditional toy used to play a traditional game, such stories about the dreidel and game can be called metafolklore–that is, folklore about folklore. In this blog, we’ll take a look at some of these stories about the origin of the dreidel and examine the toy’s real history.

Mumming Up 2022: AFC Mummers on December 13

The American Folklife Center Mummers will present their annual mummers’ play in the Great Hall of the Library of Congress, 10 1st Street SE in Washington, DC, at 1:00 and  3:00 p.m. on Tuesday, December 13. This year’s play is called The Flute of Ice: A Mumming From the Vault. It’s 1816 and President Madison visits the North Pole Library to deposit a flute made of ice! But soon Father Christmas, the North Pole Librarian, and Dr. Joculus have to deal with dueling monsters. Will their celebrity guest get to play the flute before it melts? The American Folklife Center’s annual holiday play incorporates traditional songs, music, and folk drama from Library of Congress collections for a zany and fun time in the Great Hall. It’s open to the public, so come on in and see us perform!

Botkin Folklife Lecture Premiere: 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.

Caught My Ear: The Lullaby That Came to Symbolize the Exodus of Cuba’s Children

During her internship here at the American Folklife Center, Elisa Alfonso had the opportunity to explore many wonderful digital collections here at the Library of Congress. In particular she found many versions of a Spanish-language lullaby, “Señora Santana,” and noted fascination variations among versions, suggesting that a version collected primarily from Cuban Americans has become a vessel through which migrants talk about the sensations of trauma and loss that come with childhood forced migration. Read her observations, and hear several versions of the song, in her guest post.

Community Collection Grants: R&B Urban Line Dancing on “Of the People”

Below is an excerpt from a post on the Library’s Of the People blog highlighting artist, documentarian, and AFC Community Collections Grant recipient Karen Abdul-Malik, also known professionally as Queen Nur. It is part of an “Of the People blog” series featuring the 2022 awardees of the American Folklife Center’s Community Collections Grants program. Abdul-Malik’s project focuses […]

A Seminar for Strathmore Artist in Residence Grad School

Thanks to an ongoing partnership between the American Folklife Center and the Strathmore Music Center in North Bethesda, Maryland, fourteen young musicians were treated to a multi-media feast of collection materials significant to jazz history from three different divisions in the Library of Congress during their in-person visit on Tuesday, November 15, 2022. Read all about it in Folklife Today!

A Quick Note of Thanks

Veterans Day season is understandably a traditionally busy time for the Veterans History Project (VHP) staff and supporters. With media interviews, performances, workshops, exhibits, veteran/Gold Star family member interview opportunities and ceremonies, this year was certainly no different.  As we bask in the afterglow of successfully sharing stories through multiple mediums, I would be remiss […]

Natalie Merchant, Martha González and Ricardo L. Punzalan Appointed to American Folklife Center’s Board of Trustees

The American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress is pleased to announce the appointment of platinum-selling recording artist Natalie Merchant, musician and MacArthur Fellow Martha González, and community archiving scholar Ricardo L. Punzalan to the American Folklife Center Board of Trustees. We are also happy to report that legislative liaison Jean Dorton and theater professor John Patrick Rice have been reappointed to the board. Read more in this post at Folklife Today!

AFC’s Homegrown Foodways Film Premiere: REPLENISH: Nourishing Neighbors through Community Food Equity

As part of our collaboration on the Homegrown Foodways in Central New Jersey film series, today is the premiere of the series’ final film, REPLENISH: Nourishing Neighbors through Community Food Equity, which you can watch in this blog post or on the Library’s YouTube channel. REPLENISH: Nourishing Neighbors brings viewers into the world of community food banks and food pantries, sharing the ways in which organizations, staff, and volunteers serve and strengthen their neighborhoods through food distribution and access to social services, such as housing support, job searches, health care, and more. This film also takes a deeper look at Middlesex County’s Share Your Foodways program, detailing its inception during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic.