LJMU English Phd student Jennie O’Reilly has just received support funding from both LJMU and the American Folklore Society to deliver a conference paper in the US. Here she describes the research underlying her proposal…

Jennie English websiteBack in June of this year I received an email from the American Folklore Society informing me that my paper had been accepted at this year’s Joint Annual Meeting with the International Society for Folk Narrative Research – in Miami! What an incredible location for a conference… Addressing the theme of the conference on ‘Unfinished Stories’, my paper will focus on two ethnographies: Mules and Men by Zora Neale Hurston and Harry Hyatt’s Hoodoo Conjuration Witchcraft Rootwork, both undertaken during the 1930s.

‘Florida is a place that draws people, white people from all the world, and Negroes from every Southern state surely and some from the North and West’ claimed Zora Neale Hurston in Mules and Men. When asked ‘where [did she] want to go to collect folklore?’

Zora Neale Hurston
Zora Neale Hurston

Hurston’s immediate answer was Florida and this was her reason. Taking inspiration from her fieldwork, Florida would later become the setting for some of Hurston’s fictional works including Their Eyes Were Watching God, Jonah’s Gourd Vine and Seraph on the Suwanee. In approximately the same period that Hurston was collecting folktales from Florida, an Episcopal minister by the name of Harry Hyatt was on a similar venture. He too collected folktales in Florida as well as a number of other states on the Eastern Seaboard and across the South during the 1930s. His folk narratives remained untold to the public until almost four decades later when he published five volumes of interviews. A unique quality of the final volume was that it contained supplementary material from a second set of Florida interviews conducted in 1970. Florida was the only place on his initial twelve state field journey that Hyatt revisited. Why Florida? What was it about the Sunshine State that continued to draw these two folklorists back?

Inspired by the location of the conference and the recurrence of Florida as a place for collecting folklore in both of their works, my paper explores the reasons why Florida was considered culturally distinctive in the minds of these two ethnographers and why both Hurston and Hyatt revisited Florida in their later works.

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