Biographies Vance Randolph (1892-1980)

Vance Randolph, circa 1940. Library of Congress, American Folklife Center- Vance Randolph Collection. Photograph.

Vance Randolph was a self-educated folklorist who made a living as a professional writer. Born in Pittsburg, Kansas, in 1892, he was educated as a scientist. He studied biology as an undergraduate and psychology as a graduate student at Clark University. While a graduate student, Randolph began to earn money by coaching students and ghostwriting. He then moved to the Ozark Mountains, where he lived for the remainder of his life. In the 1920s, Randolph began writing about the Ozark folklore he was collecting. In February 1941, Alan Lomax wrote to Randolph, asking if he would consider making field recordings in the Ozarks for the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress. Randolph accepted this request and began to conduct fieldwork with recording equipment supplied by the Archive. By the end of 1942, he had collected more than 870 selections on 198 discs for the Library of Congress (see The Vance Randolph Collection, AFC 1941/001). He published several articles on dialect, folk belief, and recreation. Randolph’s first books of folklore scholarship, The Ozarks and Ozark Mountain Folks, were published in the 1930s. He went on to publish Ozark Folksongs (4 volumes, 1946-50) and Ozark Superstitions (1947). In the 1950s, he published four collections of folktales and a book about language in the Ozarks. In 1962, he married Mary Celestia Parler, a professor of English at the University of Arkansas and an active member of the folklore community in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Randolph’s other major publications include Ozark Folklore: A Bibliography (1972), Pissing in the Snow and Other Ozark Folktales (1976), and Unprintable Ozark Folksongs and Folklore (posthumous, 1992). In 1978, Randolph was named a Fellow of the American Folklore Society. He donated his personal papers to the Library of Congress in 1972. Randolph died in 1980.

Selected Works at the Library of Congress