Tag: Storytelling

Unpublished Letter to the Editor of TIME

In April TIME Magazine ran a feature on slavery and the Civil War by noted journalist David Von Drehle. It was pretty good, but I took issue with a paragraph about Southern coping mechanisms during Reconstruction:

“But people were eager to forget. And so Americans both Southern and Northern flocked to minstrel shows and snapped up happy-slave stories by writers like Thomas Nelson Page and Joel Chandler Harris. White society was not ready to deal with the humanity and needs of freed slaves, and these entertainments assured them that there was no need to. Reconstruction was scorned as a fool’s errand, and Jim Crow laws were touted as sensible reforms to restore a harmonious land.”

As soon as I read the article I wrote and sent in a letter to the editor. They didn’t publish it, so here you go.

David Von Drehle truly grasped of the influence of storytelling in “150 Years After Fort Sumter: Why We’re Still Fighting the Civil War,” his piece about slavery’s role in the Civil War. That’s why it’s shocking he could so casually dismiss the gravity of Joel Chandler Harris’s Uncle Remus tales.

Harris’s depiction of plantation life is a far cry from “happy slaves, all faithful to a glorious lost cause,” as Von Drehle writes. The figure of Uncle Remus in particular is a subversive, developed character who tricks his audience—both the little white boy in the stories and the reader of the stories themselves—into witnessing nuanced lessons of cultural understanding and empathy. Fittingly, Uncle Remus introduced the world to Br’er Rabbit, one of literature’s greatest trickster heroes.

Harris first heard these stories while he grew up working amongst slaves on a Georgia plantation during the Civil War. Just a few years after the Jim Crow laws were enacted, he celebrated and preserved African-American culture and folklore that was widely derided and may have otherwise been lost. In doing so, he also satirized the very “plantation school” writers that Von Drehle lumps him in with.

If Von Drehle bothered to study the Uncle Remus tales, as I suspect he has not, I think he’d be delighted to find “Americanism at its best”—literature that tears down borders.

Lain Shakespeare
Executive Director
The Wren’s Nest House Museum
Historic Home of Joel Chandler Harris

For a more detailed look at this particular issue, take a look at “Everything You’ve Heard About Uncle Remus Is Wrong.”


Storytelling with Curtis at the National Black Arts Festival

Things have been a little bonkers with us lately, and our blog hasn’t been getting the attention it deserves.  Sorry, baby — I still love you.

Part of the reason?  It’s festival season, which means we do things like go to the National Black Arts Festival for three days.  Go ahead, see for yourself (and enjoy some storytelling while you’re at it) —

That’s Curtis, storyteller extraordinaire, in our tent on the second day of the NBAF.  He was filmed by the wonderful Spenser Simrill, Jr., who also recorded Akbar here a few months ago.  Remember?

While being awesome all over town takes time, you can still get your fix if you follow us on Twitter, where the Wren’s Nest is consistently amusing.  In the meantime, don’t worry — more excuses posts coming soon!

Spring Break (Woo!) Storytelling Extravaganza 2010! April 6 – 9th! Woo!

Remember what a great time we had with our Spring Break (Woo!) Storytelling Extravaganza last year?  Oh, you weren’t there?  Allow me to fill you in: so much fun.

Lucky for you, we’re ready to triumph once again!  Next week, from April 6th – 9th, we’ll be offering storytelling every day at noon. And!  To sweeten the pot, admission will be Buy-1-Get-1 Free!

We’re serious about how great this will be.  Want proof?

Check out this outstanding and totally legit poster from general good guy (and Vernacular cover designer) Zach. The illustration should look familiar — we featured Fritz Eichenberg’s awesome pieces a few weeks back.

Weather permitting, storytelling will be held outside.

We encourage y’all to bring a picnic lunch.  Tours will follow the performances or the lunches, whichever makes the most sense.  We don’t want to rush your digestion.

Lest you start whining about this being only for students, allow me to remind you, crybaby: it’s during your lunch break!  And boy are we MARTA accessible.

Hope to see you there!

Wren's Nest Visitor Drops Brer Rabbit Album With Dialect

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


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


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?


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