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Jerrilyn McGregory Receives Chicago Folklore Prize

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Jerrilyn McGregory headshot

Jerrilyn McGregory (professor in folklore in the Department of English, Florida State University) received the Chicago Folklore Prize, honoring the best book of folklore scholarship of the year, for One Grand Noise: Boxing Day in the Anglicized Caribbean World (University Press of Mississippi, 2022).

First awarded in 1904, the Chicago Folklore Prize, awarded to the author(s) of the best book-length work of folklore scholarship for the year, is the oldest international award recognizing excellence in folklore scholarship. The prize is offered jointly by the American Folklore Society and the University of Chicago.

front cover of McGregory's One Grand Noise, which features performers in colorful attire dancing down a street.

One Grand Noise: Boxing Day in the Anglicized Caribbean World overtly exhibits all the
features of an excellent study of folklore, but it also goes beyond the obvious. The ambitious
study covers large swaths of time and space, not just touching on different areas, histories,
similarities, and differences, but also getting into depth and detail, subtleties and profundities.
Jerrilyn McGregory challenges the individual reader and the discipline to follow her line of
inquiry and attune our concepts of time, space, and tradition to the practices she documents and
traces back to diasporic African and African American histories and cultures. McGregory ably
discusses Boxing Day’s origin in Catholic and other older festivals, and then moves from island
by island to examine the different festival aspects such as Junkanoo in the Bahamas, Gombey
dancers in Bermuda, shooting match in Florida, and J’ouvert in St Croix and St Kitts.
One Grand Noise illustrates beautifully how the folk, in this case, Blacks in the Anglicized
Caribbean (ACW), have laid claim to their heritage and identities by persisting in their
observation of Boxing Day in a way quite different from the mainstream view of Boxing Day as
a British minor holiday. Rather, the Caribbean practices knit together diasporic communities that
build upon an African American collective memory and culture. McGregory argues that the
practitioners use these cultural practices to rise above domination and disenfranchisement to lay
claim to identities that are free from dominant Anglo rule.

McGregory’s research in this ethnography is thorough, careful, and creative. Her fieldwork itself
spans two decades, comprising both participant-observation in particular countries during the
Boxing Day season over several years and visits to field sites in the “off season.” Her published
sources include histories, and while the work is well-grounded in folkloristics, it also reaches
across disciplines. Emerging from McGregory’s ethnography, the title One Grand Noise talks
back at the dismissal of African-style drumming as meaningless noise, and some chapters draw
creatively on local expressions pertaining to the Boxing Day festivities to further our
understanding of the cultural and political dimensions of these festivals and rituals as African
American “reenactment of persistence and resistance along with a sense of triumph over
relentless obstruction.” In the process, readers come to understand “endarkening” as a process of
valuing darkness and affirming Black times and Black spaces.

The thick description in the first few chapters uses the senses to unfold the book’s argument.
McGregory captures the aural factor of fife and drum, drumming, music, dancing, and shooting,
but also a variety of sights, from bright costumes to less artful dress, the smoke of festive fire and
funfire. Finding patterns without eliding differences, McGregory traces the tradition in each
locale to communicate its unique genealogy. Colonialism is an undeniable context for the Boxing
Day tradition and its influence is well analyzed; yet McGregory never allows the colonizing
power to dominate. Instead, that power is present in the background, while people usually
relegated to the background claim the center, resisting hegemony, yes, but also celebrating life
without reference to the dominant population.

McGregory’s careful description and analysis of the symbolic, political, cosmological, and
humanistic factors in Anglo Caribbean Boxing Day celebrations earn One Grand Noise: Boxing
Day
in the Anglo Caribbean World its place as the winner of the 2022 Chicago Folklore Prize.
Decentering the “Anglo” in the Anglicized Caribbean World, McGregory brings folklore studies
forward by documenting cultures and a celebration of which many have a very limited
understanding. At the same time, she provides folklore scholars with a trail and model to follow
that draws in other disciplines interested in understanding tradition and the human condition.

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