Summer Reading Series: An Arkansas Folklore Sourcebook

arkansas folklore sourcebook

This begins Part One is a new series for the Seed and the Story column, which runs here on the Boiled Down Juice and in two Arkansas newspapers. This season-long series will highlight books that help us gain a deeper understanding of the central Arkansas region and related topics. We’d love for this series to be as interactive as possible, so tell us what’s on your reading list (even if you don’t call central Arkansas home!) and your own memories of summer reading.  

Some of my earliest memories are of my mother reading to me. She greatly valued the written word and all it could offer readers both young and old. I especially remember her taking me to summer story times at the Arkansas River Valley Library in Dardanelle. The librarians drew us in with their animated stories and songs, capturing our imagination and sparking our interest in worlds both real and fantastical. After story time was over I would scan the shelves for old favorites and new reads, going home with an armload of books about dogs, horses, and pirate ships.

Regardless if you’re eight or eighty, summer is a great time for making a big reading list and carving out time to explore ideas both new and old. With that thought in mind, throughout the summer this column will feature a few books (some new, some old) that touch on Folklife, regional history, community action, and other topics that relate directly, or loosely, to this column.

This week’s book is W.K. McNeil and William M. Clements book An Arkansas Folklore Sourcebook. Published in 1992 by the University of Arkansas Press in Fayetteville, this book is an excellent resource for anyone interested in learning more about folklore research in the state. Divided into sections such as “Singing and Playing Music in Arkansas,” “Customs and Beliefs,” and “Folk Festivals and Celebrations,” this book features essays from several Arkansas researchers, including former ATU professor Earl F. Schrock who authored the essay, “Traditional Arkansas Foodways.”

Featuring photos and stories from both Pope and Yell Counties, this essay explores the history of food traditions in both the black and white communities such as sorghum milling and how to make molasses candy, wild greens like poke sallet (or salad), the prevalence of wild hogs and the importance of hog killing time, and the process of curing both apples and meat. Readers will likely recognize many of the names and photos including Gladys Richardson of Yell County canning apples, Laura Carroll of Pope County with her milking cow, and Courtney Campbell and Clifford Sides, both of Dardanelle, making molasses.

There is also a great deal of information about the ways in which food plays a large role in special events like funerals, holidays, and weddings. Included at the end of the book is an extensive bibliography of books about Arkansas folklore, a discography of audio and music recordings, and a list of films related to Arkansas Folklife. No matter how much you’ve read about the region, this book is sure to introduce you to more materials. It can be found in regional libraries (including the Arkansas reading room in both Dardanelle), and is still available for purchase through the U of A Press.

What’s on your summer reading list? What are some of your favorite books about Arkansas history and culture or related topics? I’d love to hear about them! And if you are interested in regional Folklife research and related topics, check out our work at the McElroy House: Organization for Folklife, Oral History and Community Action. We’d love to have you join us! www.mcelroyhouse.wordpress.com. If you’ve been following our discussions of the living tradition of Decoration Days, please note that a few readers have submitted Decoration Days photos to share, and you can find them online at both of the webpages listed above. Thanks so much for reading!

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The Seed and the Story is a partnership with the Courier and Post Dispatch newspapers in Pope and Yell County, Arkansas. This weekly column explores folklife, oral history, and community in central Arkansas, particularly the Yell County area where the column originates. Columns are often written in partnership with the McElroy House: Organization for Folklife, Oral History, and Community Action and humbly attempt to bridge intergenerational themes in the region.