Today a gentleman visiting from California stopped in for our Buy-1-Get-1-Free Spring Break (Woo!) Storytelling Extravaganza. Naturally, he was delighted.
After the tour, he handed me a CD’s worth of Brer Rabbit stories that he recorded. Here, take a listen —
Stephen Allman – The Wonderful Tar-Baby Story[audio:allmantarbaby.mp3]
I was surprised to find out that Stephen isn’t a professional storyteller. The production quality is great, he has a wonderful voice, and he can tell a good story. The folks that heard his versions here were disappointed he didn’t have CDs for sale.
Stephen was struck by the Brer Rabbit stories he heard as a child, often told to him in Gullah or Geechee dialects. So unlike our storytellers, Stephen has employed dialect in these versions, like Joel Chandler Harris did when originally recorded the stories.
To some, this is the most controversial aspect of Harris’s work.
The argument goes something like this — Harris’s use of dialect is insulting and stereotypical, especially from someone who has essentially hijacked and homogenized an important portion of African-American culture. He stinks.
Stephen Allman – The Briar Patch[audio:allmanbriarpatch.mp3]
To others, employing dialect is one of the most important parts of Harris’s work.
Their argument goes like this — Harris carefully preserved a vital part of culture, speech, and history, while also becoming one of the first Americans to present black culture to a wide audience with respect. He should have a halo when you picture him.
What do you think of Stephen’s stories? Think we should sell his CD at the Wren’s Nest?
What about the dialect in the stories? Does it make you smile? Does it make you cringe?
Does it matter that Stephen is white? Would your perception be different if he were black? Is the presentation politically correct or politically incorrect? Does that matter?