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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 -- ]was 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 Observer, American 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 (, an international exploration of floral markets, customs and rituals, and, with Bishop, The Daily Yonder, (, with news, features, research, and commentary about the rural US.

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 Me (1973).

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.

Anne Lewis's 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 Valley, co-directed with Mimi Pickering, (P.O.V., American Film and Video Blue Ribbon) about environmental racism. Her documentary Fast Food Women, 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 Channel series of films about women by women. Other recognized work includes Evelyn Williams, 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

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 working people.

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, living issues." (From

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.

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.


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   May 15, 2015
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