Friday Reads: African American Folktales

“Friday Reads” is a weekly blog written by reference librarian Faith Lee about great books, magazines, and the occasional reference work.    Topics may be new titles added to the library, selections from the Staff Picks shelf or about something she recently read.  Admittedly, there is a definite slant toward nonfiction, because, well, she’s a reference librarian and likes to learn new things.  Guest bloggers take a turn sometimes too.  No matter the source, good reads are featured here. 

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In celebration of Black History Month, this week I am highlighting a beautiful new book we recently added to the collection, The Annotated African American Folktales, edited and with a forward, introduction and notes by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Maria Tatar.  It joins other wonderfully designed annotated books of classic American literature from W. W. Norton and Co., such as The Annotated Alice, The Annotated Huckleberry Finn (which I put on in staff picks collection a few years ago) and The Annotated Uncle Tom’s Cabin, to name only a few.


The inner flap states, “Drawing from the great folklorists of the past while expanding African American lore with dozens of tales rarely seen before, The Annotated African American Folktales revolutionizes the canon like no other volume. ( …)  acclaimed scholars, Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Maria Tatar assemble a groundbreaking collection of folktales, myths and legends that revitalizes a vibrant African American past to produce the most comprehensive and ambitious collection of African American folktales ever published in American literary history.  Arguing for the value of these deceptively simple stories as part of a sophisticated, complex, and heterogeneous cultural heritage, Gates and Tatar show how these remarkable stories deserve a place alongside the classic works of African American literature, and American literature more broadly.”

With this book you will make sense of the world with Anansi, figure out dilemmas with a variety of tales, read of enchantment and wisdom in fairy tales and enjoy many stories of flying Africans, magic instruments, witches, hants and spooks, talking skulls and singing tortoises.  The Tar-Baby and Uncle Remus are well represented and one section features folktales collected by Zora Neale Hurston.  This isn’t all, there is a section of tales about John and old master, ballads about heroes, outlaws and monkey business and preacher tales as well.

The essays, annotations and assorted photos, drawings and other illustrations combine to provide illuminating context for these “deceptively simple stories,” making The Annotated African American Folktales a real treasury.  You can find this book on the new nonfiction shelf with the call number 398.208996 ANN.


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