From the assorted inks and fonts to the spacious pages, the gallery of vintage illustrations, the notes, the essays, the testaments by readers and scholars, and the stories, The Annotated African American Folktales (Liveright $39.95) is both beautifully presented and impeccably researched. Edited by eminent Harvard professors Henry Louis Gates Jr., Director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and American Research, and Maria Tatar, chair of the Program in Folklore and Mythology, both of whose detailed introductory essays could constitute a substantial book in themselves, the volume gathers close to two hundred tales. The editors build on the work of predecessors including Arthur Huff Fauset and Zora Neale Hurston, correct the distortions of popularizers like Joel Chandler Harris and Walt Disney, and extend the canon of African American folklore to embrace Caribbean and Latin American tales. The collection begins with its roots: four sections lay out African story-telling traditions, from trickster tales and the Anansi cycles, with their mischievous animal/human creature “who weaves webs of beautiful complexity and tells stories about the tangled webs we weave,” to today’s oral narratives. The editors follow Anansi and other foundational African motifs through the one-hundred-and-forty stories that follow, tracing a vital tradition as it changes and grows. Drawn from both songs and published texts, here are familiar figures like the Tar-Baby, Brer Rabbit, and John Henry; people who can fly, heal, and disappear; casts of heroes, preachers, and shape-shifters; and here also are their descendants in the work of contemporary writers like Ralph Ellison and Toni Morrison.
The Annotated African American Folktales - Henry Louis Gates, Maria Tatar