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Benjamin A. Botkin head and shoulders portrait
Folklorist Benjamin A. Botkin, 1926. Photo courtesy of the Botkin family.

Benjamin A. Botkin Folklife Lecture Series

Through the Benjamin A. Botkin Folklife Lecture Series, the American Folklife Center (AFC) presents distinguished experts speaking about their research and current issues and best practices in folklore, folklife, ethnomusicology, and related fields. Lectures are recorded for the AFC archive and posted on the Library's website. (See below for list of speakers and topics.) The series honors Benjamin A. Botkin (1901-1975), a pioneering folklorist who headed the Library's Archive of American Folksong from 1942-1945.

2015 Botkin Lectures

August 20, 2015
Lecture 4:00-5:00 discussion 5:00-6:30
Mumford Room, 6th floor, James Madison Building

Steve Zeitlin
Steve Zeitlin

"The Poetry of Everyday Life," presented by Steve Zeitlin, Director, City Lore, New York City.

Lecture 4:00-5:00, followed by a film screening and discussion with Steve Zeitlin and Paul Wagner of Paul Wagner Films from 5:00-6:30. The films are: Boom and Bust - America's Journey on the Erie Canal and The Grand Generation.Mumford Room, 6th floor, James Madison Building.

Steve Zeitlin, folklorist and poet, describes this presentation as follows:

Paul Wagner
Paul Wagner

Folklore is often defined as traditions handed down by word of mouth across generations. For The Poetry of Everyday Life I combine a folkloric perspective, which documents the creative expressions of a culture, with a creative-writing approach, which addresses our personal creativity. Years before I began studying folklore, I was a poet, which I define as someone who writes poems, not as someone who necessarily publishes poetry or is beloved as a poet. My career of observing and collecting folklore melds with my creative writing; I see every phrase as a potential poem or story. I believe this convergence of poetry and folklore gives birth to something new: a new way of seeing ourselves, and a new way of being in the world. I hope to expand your consciousness of the beauty in your own world—and to inspire you to draw on words and other forms of creative expression to acknowledge and share this heightened awareness. To live a creative life is a meaningful way to engage with the beauty of the everyday.

The characters I’ve gotten to know in my work, many of whom have passed on, come back to me through stories and poems. I discover again and again what the folklorist Sandy Rikoon narrowed into three words: "People are smart." I consider them geniuses in the art of living. They are my teachers, and much of what I know about life I've learned from them. As a folklorist, I hope in a modest way to shape a more democratic history, revealing the lives of the marginalized people who rarely see their stories writ large. My relationship with the extraordinary individuals I describe here is a testament to solidarity and connection across difference. (I am not denying the differences in our situations or walks of life, but they are kindred spirits nonetheless.) In my work we often talk about what these iconic individuals are doing for the world. Here, I take notice of what I have learned from them.

At the conclusion of the talk, we will screen two films I made with Academy Award winning filmmaker Paul Wagner. The first, The Grand Generation, presents the wisdom of elders. The second, supported by an Archie Green Fellowship of the Library of Congress, is Boom and Bust: America's Journey on the Erie Canal is a a meditation on economic cycles and the American Dream. This remarkable film tells the story of industrial expansion and decline along the Erie Canal, and examines its impact on the lives of workers in steel, grain, textiles and shipping. In the wake of economic collapse, can the people of America's cities find meaning and worth?

Botkin Lecture Series Past Events Archive

Includes descriptions of each lecture, photos, and informational essays from the event flyers. Links to webcasts of lectures are included as available.

2014 Lecture Series

2013 Lecture Series

2012 Lecture Series

2011 Lecture Series

2010 Lecture Series

2009 Lecture Series

2008 Lecture Series

2007 Lecture Series

2006 Lecture Series

2005 Lecture Series

2004 Lecture Series


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   August 6, 2015
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