Biographies: Laborlore Conversations IV
Listed in alphabetical order
Maribel Alvarez is
the Public Folklorist at the University of Arizona, charged
with interpreting the regional culture of Northern Mexico
and the U.S. Southwest. She holds dual appointments at U.
of A. in the English Department and the Southwest Center, and holds a Ph.D.
in anthropology from U. of A. and a Masters Degree in political theory from
California State University. From 1996 to 2002 she served as the founding executive
director of MACLA/Movimiento de Arte y Cultura Latino
Americana, a multidisciplinary
urban arts space in San Jose, Calif., nationally recognized for its sophisticated
innovation in community arts. Alvarez was born in Cuba, grew up in Puerto
Rico and has worked in the field of Chicano arts since the 1980s. Her book There's
Nothing Informal About It: Participatory Arts Within the Cultural Ecology of
Silicon Valley [click here to download the .pdf version of the publcation
reviewed on CAN by Tom Borrup in February 2006.
Julie Ardrey, a
writer in Austin, Texas, edited the memoir of coal miner,
musician and labor activist Jim Garland, Welcome
the Traveler Home (University Press of Kentucky, 1983).
Her own book,The Temptation (University
of North Carolina Press, 1998), examines the rising popularity
of contemporary American folk art. A Ph.D. sociologist, she's
also published poetry and written about art and culture for
American Prospect, Texas Monthly, the Texas
Craft, the Oxford American and other publications. She and
her husband, Bill Bishop, owned and worked for The
Bastrop County Times, a weekly newspaper in Smithville, Texas, in
the 1980s. She now operates two websites: The
Human Flower Project (http://www.humanflowerproject.com), an international
exploration of floral markets, customs and rituals, and,
with Bishop, The Daily Yonder, (http://www.dailyyonder.com),
with news, features, research, and commentary about the rural
Hal Cannon is the founding Director
of the Western Folklife Center in Elko, Nevada, and its famous child, the Cowboy
Poetry Gathering. Cannon has published a dozen books and recordings on the folk
arts of the West including his bestselling anthology, Cowboy
Poetry, A Gathering.
More recently Cannon has been producing public television and radio features
on the culture and folklife of the American West. Voices
of the West was
a six-part series of one-hour documentaries on holiday folk traditions; the
episode A Cowboy Christmas won a bronze
medal at the New York International Radio Festival. With his wife, author
Teresa Jordan, he created the series The Open Road: Exploring America's Favorite Places featured
on The Savvy Traveler, public radio's most popular travel show. Cannon and
producer Taki Telonidis produce the Folk
Economy series heard on Public Radio International's Marketplace and features
for NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday. Their documentary, Why
the Cowboy Sings (2003) received several awards including
a Rocky Mountain Emmy and a Special Jury Award at the Houston Film Festival.
A 16-minute high-definition Music Video version has been produced as part of
the permanent exhibit at the Western Folklife Center in Elko, Nevada.
Susan Church ranches with her husband Peter and their two sons Andrew and James on the Keddie Ranch 40 miles north of Elko. The Keddie is the most isolated part of the larger Glaser Land and Livestock outfit. As a teenager Susan helped her father repair machinery, and soon became an accomplished welder herself. She now channels that skill into artwork she produces from salvaged ranching implements. Susan says producing Deep
West Videos has given her the opportunity to "observe her own life and mark the changes and progress that come with each passing year."
Hazel Dickens, protest
and folksinger, grew up the eighth of 11 children in a large,
poor mining family in West Virginia, and she has since used elements of country
and bluegrass to spread truth about two causes close to her heart: the plight
of non-unionized mineworkers and feminism, born not of the '60s movement but
traditional values. Born June 1, 1935, in Mercer County, WV, Dickens learned
about music from her father, an occasional banjo player and Baptist minister
who drove trucks for a mining company to make a living. She was early influenced
by country traditionalists such as Uncle Dave Macon, the Monroe Brothers, and
the Carter Family. When she was 19, her family's dire poverty forced her family
to move to Baltimore, where she worked in factories with her sister
and two brothers.
The four displaced siblings often attended old-timey festivals and gatherings, watching others and performing themselves. At one of these festivals, Hazel Dickens met Mike Seeger (younger brother of folk legend Pete Seeger), and the two formed a band with her brothers. Over the ensuing decade, Dickens became active in the folk/bluegrass movement around the Baltimore/Washington, D.C., area, playing bass and singing with several bands, including the Greenbriar Boys.
Around this time she met Mike Seeger's wife, Alice Gerrard, a classically trained
singer also interested in old-timey music. At the nearby Library of Congress,
the two began researching early feminist songs and then incorporated them into
their own repertoire. The duo performed throughout the country -- particularly
the South -- and recorded two albums for Folkways, Who's That Knocking (And
Other Bluegrass Country Music) (1965) and Won't You Come & Sing for
During her subsequent solo career, she has recorded four songs for the soundtrack to Barbara Kopple's Academy Award-winning documentary about coalmining, Harlan County, USA; contributed to the soundtrack for With Babies and Banners and recorded three solo albums for Rounder, Hard Hitting Songs for the Hard Hit (1981), By the Sweat of My Brow (1983), and It's Hard to Tell the Singer From the Song (1987). The Rounder recordings
include old-timey country alongside protest songs and songs in a more contemporary
country style. Rounder's A Few Old Memories distills the best of the
three albums onto one disc. (From John Bush, All Music Guide on
Elaine Eff received a doctorate
in Folklore and Folklife from the University of Pennsylvania in 1984, after
completing graduate work in museum studies at Cooperstown and coordinating
exhibitions at the Winterthur Museum and the Smithsonian Institution. At the
Maryland Historical Trust, Eff authored a book, You
Should Have Been Here Yesterday: A Guide to Cultural Documentation in Maryland (1995),
that has served as a handbook for those who want to learn how to use oral history
and other methods to record the history of their communities. She contributed
oral histories of a now-vanished generation of lighthouse keepers to Ross Holland's
Maryland Lighthouses of the Chesapeake Bay. As the contact person for Marylanders
seeking grants to support oral history and community history, Eff has guided
dozens of projects. She also serves as co-Director of Maryland
Traditions, a partnership of the Maryland Historical Trust and the Maryland
State Arts Council that discovers and sustains traditional arts and culture.
Eff has advised, funded, or directed many projects documenting the living culture
and history of that region. Among her contributions was developing the Delmarva
Folklife Project, a multi-year initiative to preserve the history and folkways
of this region. When it came time to create a public product that could incorporate
the project's results, a steering committee on which Eff served crafted the
innovative publication, From
Bridge to Boardwalk: An Audio Journey Along Maryland's Eastern Shore. The
packet includes CDs with interviews, historical recordings and music, along
with a 76-page book containing a pull-out map, essays, photographs, and tips
to finding local arts and cultural treasures. The recordings allow travelers
interested in hearing the authentic voices of the region to listen and learn
as they drive the shore's byways.
Carl Fleischhauer is Project
Coordinator, Office of Strategic Initiatives, Library of Congress. He holds
a BA degree from Kenyon College and an MFA from Ohio University. His work experience
includes film and video production at West Virginia University (1969-1976);
folklife field research, publications, and exhibitions at the American Folklife
Center at the Library of Congress (1976-1990); coordination of the Library's American
Memory program for online access to historical collections (1990-1998);
and continuing service to collection-digitizing and digital preservation efforts
at the Library of Congress in the Office of Strategic Initiatives (1998-present).
Fleischhauer's publications include long playing records and audio compact
discs of folk-music field recordings, a laser videodisc about a cattle ranch
in Nevada, and books on the FSA-OWI photographic project and bluegrass music.
Paula Johnson is Curator, Division
of Work and Industry at the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of American History.
She has an M.A. in Anthropology and Folklore, University of Texas, Austin and
a B.A in English from Gustavus Adolphus College, MN. Her research specialties
are American maritime history and traditions; fisheries history; maritime occupations
and communities; maritime material culture; boats and boatbuilding; American
food and wine history; oral history and folklife documentation; public history.
She is currently Project Director and Curator for the permanent exhibition, On the Water: Stories from Maritime America, among other exhibitions.
James Lane, a resident of the
maritime community of Crisfield, MD was a participant in the AFC Field School
at Salisbury State University in 2004. That experience led to an awakening
of interest in documenting and collecting community-based traditions. He has
appeared at the Smithsonian Instiution's Folklife Festival and continues to
document community traditions of watermen and other aspects of local African
American culture in his hometown.
work reveals working class people fighting for social change.
She was associate director/assistant camera for Harlan
County, USA, the
Academy Award-winning documentary, which focused on the Brookside strike
of 1975. After the strike, Lewis moved to the coalfields where she lived
for 25 years. Among documentaries she has produced, directed and edited are
To Save the Land and People (SXSW,
Texas Documentary Tour), a history of a militant grassroots environmental
movement; Justice in the Coalfields (INTERCOM
gold plaque) about the community impact of the Pittston strike in southwest
Virginia; On Our Own Land (DuPont-Columbia
award for independent broadcast journalism) about the citizen's movement
to stop broad form deed strip-mining; and Chemical
co-directed with Mimi Pickering, (P.O.V., American Film and Video Blue Ribbon)
about environmental racism. Her documentary Fast
about women struggling to raise families in minimum wage jobs with no benefits,
received national airing on P.O.V. and was part of a Learning
of films about women by women. Other recognized work includes Evelyn
about an African-American activist, coal miner's wife and mother of nine
(Juror's Choice, Black Maria Film Festival, Margaret Meade Festival); Belinda,
about AIDS-activist Belinda Mason who spoke of the need for a collective
response not crippled by homophobia, racism, fear or ignorance (CINE Golden
Eagle); Minnie Black's Gourd Band (Retirement
Research Foundation Silver Owl Award, Museum of Modern Art screening); and Mabel
Parker Hardison Smith,
about an African-American teacher and gospel musician (Atlanta Film and Video
Festival, Antros '87/Barbara Myerhoff Film Festival, Women in the Director's
Chair). Lewis lives in Austin, TX, and teaches non-linear editing at the
University of Texas.
Janice Marshall is First President
and founder of the Smith Island Crab Meat Cooperative Inc. MD. and a sixth
generation Smith Islander. She is a crab picker by occupation and an entrepreneur
by necessity, having founded a crab-picking cooperative to comply with state
health regulations. She is also an award-winning cook.
Robert McCarl, Professor,
Anthropology Department, Boise State University, ID, has published
widely in the area of work culture focusing on the variety of ways in which
internal diversity and external social and economic pressures result in change.
His published work has included analyses of both urban and wildland fire fighting,
sheet metal work, hard rock mining and a variety of other occupations. In addition
to studying the changing cultures of work, McCarl has also examined the intersection
of work and ethnicity, region and gender, particularly within Latino and Native
American communities. He and his students are currently developing public projects
with the Turkish refugee community in Boise, Idaho.
Bryan McNeil is a cultural anthropologist
whose research deals with issues of environment, economy, development, social
movements and other themes. His dissertation focused on mountaintop removal
coal mining in West Virginia.
Barbara Miller is
Executive Director of the Silver Valley People's Action Coalition. "Once the
most productive silver mining region in the world [Idaho, east of Spokane],
the area is now known for environmental devastation, in addition to health-related
problems and economic depression. But Miller, who grew up in the area, is both
hopeful and realistic about what needs to be done. With her leadership and
with the support of other local groups and the individuals who are members
of the coalition, the Silver Valley People's Action Coalition has gone a long
way in getting the area the help it needs. It persuaded the EPA to refocus
its funding and efforts from making studies to cleaning up the site and worked
with the agency to clean up the lead in the area. Additionally, it has been
working with other partners to develop a Community Lead Health Clinic to diagnose
and treat those affected by lead and other heavy metals." (From http://www.leadershiponlinewkkf.org/local/profile/miller.asp)
Mike Munoz I
am a journeyman Pile Driver and a thirty-three year member of Pile Drivers
Local 34 in Oakland, California. I have been a union organizer since 1981
and I am currently Director of Organizing for the Northern
California Carpenters Regional Council. In 1986 I wrote and published, "Pile
Butt – a Collection of Stories on Pile Driving" and in
2001 assisted film maker Maria Brooks in the production of her film,
Pile Butts – Working
Under the Hammer. I sit on the boards of the Fund for Labor Culture
and History, the San Francisco State Labor Archives and I am a member
of the Bay Area Labor History Workshop.
In 1974 my leg was crushed while working in the field and then in 1977 I
was injured by a collapsing dock. While recuperating from the second accident,
I was appointed historian of Pile Drivers Local 34 by the president, Gary Bakke.
My tasks consisted largely of rounding up all the historical materials
in the local and putting them into one large cabinet. Whiel organizing these
materials, I found a small booklet called "Stewards on the Job," written by business
agent Jack Wagner during WWII. In the booklet were eleven linoleum cuts by Giacomo
Patri -- these illustrations changed my life.
It has been my passion to document the history of the Pile Drivers Union
and the Regional Council of Carpenters and to use what I have learned to bring
workers into the union and understand what union membership truly means to
Elaine Purkey of
Harts Creek, W.Va., is a singer-songwriter who carries on the tradition of
topical songs. Elaine was born and raised in a hollow called Sand Creek Road
in the coal fields of southwestern West Virginia. Her father played clawhammer
banjo, fiddle, mandolin, and guitar among other instruments, and had Elaine
singing by the age of five. As a child, she performed with her siblings for
church services and many community events. She began writing and singing labor
songs in the 1980s during the United Mine Worker strikes against the Pittston
Coal Company. Purkey became a community organizer in the 1990s, directing the
West Virginia Organizing Project, a grassroots organization that keeps citizens
informed about local issues. Of her singing Pete Seeger wrote, "Elaine Purkey's
songs carry on the great tradition of Ella May Wiggin of Gastonia, South Carolina,
and Aunt Molly Jackson of Harlan County, Kentucky." Purkey has recorded original
songs such as Picket Line Lady and One
Day More, in support of striking West Virginia miners and aluminum workers.
"I didn't believe I could make anything rhyme like that, but I had something
to say," Purkey has stated. "I was feeling a lot of anger about the whole situation.
In this country, nobody should want for anything. And they wouldn't, if there
wasn't so much greed."
Purkey notes, "It seems to me that there aren't as many protest songs out there.
You have to listen a lot more. But rock and rap have a lot of protest songs,
too. It's about a different kind of war -- the war that people in inner cities
are fighting. It's not about labor issues; it's about everyday kinds of issues,
David Roediger is
the Babcock Professor of History and of African American Studies at University
of Illinois. He was born in southern Illinois in 1952 and educated in public
schools in that state, with a B.S. in Ed from Northern Illinois University.
He completed a doctorate in History at Northwestern in 1979. Roediger has
taught labor, African American and Southern history at Northwestern, University
of Missouri and University of Minnesota. He has also worked as an editor
of the Frederick Douglass Papers at Yale University. He has written on U.S.
movements for a shorter working day, on the history of radicalism and on
the racial identities of white workers. His books include Our
Own Time, The Wages of Whiteness and
Towards the Abolition of Whiteness, all from
Verso, Colored White (California), History
against Misery (Kerr) and Working Toward
Whiteness (Basic). His edited books include an edition
of Covington Hall's Labor Struggles in the
Deep South (Kerr),
and another of W.E.B. Du Bois's John Brown (Random
House) as well as Black on White: Black Writers on What It Means to
Be White (Schocken).
Mike Seeger has devoted his life
to singing and playing folk music of the American south on banjo, fiddle,
guitar, trump (jaw harp), mouth harp (harmonica), quills (panpipes), lap
dulcimer, mandolin and autoharp. Mike first learned folk songs from his parents
and then from their collection of early documentary recordings. He learned
to play from masters such as guitarists Elizabeth Cotten and Maybelle Carter,
banjoists Dock Boggs and Cousin Emmy, and autoharpist Kilby Snow. As a founding
member of the New Lost City Ramblers, Mike helped revive interest in traditional
folk music. He has recorded almost forty albums, both solo and with others,
and has been honored with three Grammy nominations. http://mikeseeger.info/
Nick Spitzer is host and creator of American Public Media's American Routes a weekly two-hour radio program devoted to vernacular music, musicians and culture. He is also professor of folklore and cultural conservation at the University of New Orleans, and was named Mellon professor in the humanities at Tulane University. A commentator or producer for ABC's Nightline, NPR's All
Things Considered and Fresh Air and PBS's Great
Performances, Nick also directed the ethnographic film Zydeco:
Creole Music and Culture in Rural Louisiana, and
has produced numerous annotated field recordings. Spitzer served as founding
director of the Louisiana Folklife program, editing Louisiana Folklife:
A Guide to the State, and Mississippi
Delta Ethnographic Overview for the National Park
Service. He served as senior folklife specialist at the Smithsonian , and
as artistic director of the Folk Masters series at Carnegie Hall and the
American Roots Independence Day concerts broadcast from the National Mall
(1992-2001). In 2002 Nick lead a research and exhibition team for 'Raised
to the Trade': Creole Building Arts of New Orleans at
the New Orleans Museum of Art. A former scholar at the School of American
Research in Santa Fe and a Fellow of the American Folklore Society, he
received the Benjamin Botkin Award in Public Folklore, an ASCAP-Deems Taylor
Award for American Routes, and was named Louisiana Humanist of the Year
for cultural recovery efforts after the 2005 catastrophe in New Orleans.
In 2007 Nick was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship for work on traditional
creativity in Louisiana Creole communities.
Freda Williams was born in a coal company house in Rumble, West Virginia (Boone County), one of nine children. Her grandfathers and father were coal miners as were several of her brothers, uncles and cousins. Freda gives much of the credit for her passion for community organizing to her father, a strong union man and veteran of the 1921 mine war at Blair, West Virginia. Freda has been working throughout her life to raise public awareness of the detrimental environmental consequences of mountain-top removal and strip mining in the region.