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Posted 08.16.06


Folklore Encyclopedia Promotes Understanding of African-American Culture

MU professor Anand Prahlad wrote 40 entries and edited the three-volume set

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- African Americans have made numerous contributions to American culture. Emphasizing the need for those contributions to become more commonly known in society and included in public school curriculums nationwide, a University of Missouri-Columbia faculty member played a key role in the publishing of an encyclopedia chronicling African-American folklore and its influence on American art, music, film, literature and religion.

Anand Prahlad.Anand Prahlad, a professor of English in the College of Arts and Science, edited The Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Folklore. He also compiled the topics and wrote 40 entries in the three-volume set that includes about 700 entries. In addition to Prahlad's efforts, more than 150 African-American, Caribbean and African experts contributed to the publication, which Prahlad said is "for anyone interested in African-American culture."

Topics range from the origins of the banjo and zoot suits to the history of Kwanzaa, Juneteenth, Aunt Jemima, the dozens and rhythm and blues. The encyclopedia explores several Caribbean and African traditions, which have impacted African-American dance, music and religious practices. It also features narratives and biographies of various African-American writers, scholars, musicians and entertainers whose work relates to folk traditions. Prahlad hopes the publication becomes a standard and routinely used resource for public school teachers and students, as well as higher-education scholars, researching various aspects of African-American history.

"Having this book on the shelf would help any librarian, student or teacher when faced with questions that deal with African-American cultural contributions to America and the Caribbean," said Prahlad, who prior to teaching at the university level taught for the Oakland (Calif.) Unified Public School District for several years. "My commitment is to make an impact on kindergarten through 12th-grade curriculum as well as at the college and university levels so that African-American history and culture become common knowledge - a routine part of what children learn in school."

Prahlad said the publication, which has received positive critiques from journals that review reference works for libraries, promotes respect for cultural diversity. He is optimistic that adults of all ethnic backgrounds also will find the encyclopedia beneficial by learning about and understanding the African-American experience and contributions to American culture - through folklore, which orally focuses on the traditional beliefs, practices, customs, stories, songs and jokes of people and ethnic groups.

"Everybody has folklore, and this text is about African-American and New World African traditions," Prahlad said. "There is a real public void when it comes to knowledge of African-American culture in our society. America's cultural identity is so defined by elements of African-American folklore, yet Americans are ignorant about the roots of those elements. African-American folklore should be engaged as a topic or subject of interest by scholars and any American who wants a better understanding of his or her own cultural identity."



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