The American Folklore Society is pleased to have received a major gift to endow the longstanding Benjamin A. Botkin Prize, which is presented annually to an individual (or sometimes two) for significant lifetime achievement in public folklore. The endowment, which was provided by Botkin’s daughter, Dorothy Rosenthal, of Amherst, MA, allows AFS to increase the prize amount while also securing the distribution of future awards.
The Botkin Prize is given jointly by the Executive Board and Public Programs Section in recognition of the work of Benjamin A. Botkin (1901-1975). Eminent New Deal-era folklorist, national folklore editor of the Federal Writers’ Project in 1938-1939, advocate for the public responsibilities of folklorists, author and compiler of numerous publications on American folklore for general audiences, and head of the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress from 1942 to 1945, Botkin has had a major impact on the field of public folklore and on the public understanding of folklore.
This generous gift both honors and shares Botkin’s legacy as a public folklorist who believed in (and wrote about) shared stewardship. Further, it supports the continued recognition of the formation and continuation of public folklore practice and advocacy.Marilyn White, President, American Folklore Society
On Monday, Maggie Holtzberg, Folk Arts and Heritage Program Manager for the Massachusetts Cultural Council and 2018 recipient of the Botkin Prize, visited Ms. Rosenthal in Amherst on behalf of AFS to thank her and discuss Ben Botkin’s legacy. During that visit, Ms. Rosenthal shared her thoughts about her father’s work:
Photo by David Rosenthal
Folklore isn’t just about the past, but as my Dad always said, it is constantly “in the making.” I know he would be very pleased about the work all of you do to carry the study of folklore forward. He would be especially pleased that folklore, and his contributions to the field, are alive and well in his home state. –Dorothy Rosenthal, daughter of Benjamin Botkin
The visit also included Rosenthal’s son, David Rosenthal, and her grandson, Ben Rosenthal, named after his great-grandfather and who was visiting from his current home in California.
What a treat it was to sit down with Dorothy and her family, listening to stories about her father, including visiting him at the Library of Congress when he was Chief of the Archive of American Folksong and falling asleep under the dining room table overhearing her parents reading aloud from what would later become, Lay My Burden Down, Botkin’s 1945 publication of edited excerpts from the slave narrative collections at the Library of Congress. She was genuinely curious about the current state of folklore study and the American Folklife Center.Maggie Holtzberg, Folk Arts and Heritage Program Manager for the Massachusetts Cultural Council and 2018 recipient of the Botkin Prize
AFS executive director Jessica A. Turner expressed gratitude to the Botkin family for their support with this gift. “Endowing the Botkin Prize ensures that Botkin’s work as a tireless advocate for public folklore will endure within AFS and the field. We are grateful to Dottie and her family for sustaining our work to honor the achievements of our colleagues in public folklore.”
After a 2001 symposium on Botkin’s life held at the American Folklife Center, James Hardin wrote this about Botkin’s impact on the field: “He inspired the young folklorists of the 1960s who were intent on breaking away from the purely academic study of folk texts and encouraged the direct involvement of professionally trained folklorists with public policy and programming… Above all, he believed that folklore belongs to the folk, as all his treasuries testified. ‘If giving back to the people what we have taken from them and what rightfully belongs to them, in a form in which they can understand and use, is vulgarization,’ he wrote, ‘then we need more of it’ (“WPA and Folklore Research: Bread and Song,” Southern Folklore Quarterly 3, 1939, 10).”
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