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Research in African Literatures 37.2 (2006) 9-14

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The Works of Harold Scheub:

The Bibliographer's View

Boston University

This brief introduction touches only on the works involving the oral tradition. Though the bibliography is roughly chronological, I divide the discussion into 1) articles, 2) books, and 3) reference sources. It is important to emphasize that bibliographies record dates of publication, not the date when the work was written. This is all the more the case with the germination of ideas. For example, Harold Scheub told me of his plan to publish a book of narratives by Nongenile Masithathu Zenani in 1971; it did not see publication until 1992 (see reference 43). This introduction contains some reminiscences such as the above and, as we all know, thanks to Professor Jan Vansina, the oral tradition is not to be implicitly trusted.


Scheub's first substantial article on the oral tradition (6) (1970) details the core activities of storytelling events. In (9) (1971) he deals with narratives in which typically a sibling aids a helper, follows her advice, and reaps a reward while the succeeding sibling refuses to help, doesn't follow advice, and loses out. These are frequently more complex and varied. When he presented a version of this paper at a conference in Sudan, the locals claimed not to have it, but Scheub produced a version from among the Azande. In (10) (1971) there is an anecdote about how Harold found his largest audience until he began teaching The African Storyteller. It turned out that Erich Segal was giving a paper in this same panel on translation just after Love Story hit the cinemas and the curious were hanging from the rafters.

A conference on African folklore was held 16–18 July 1971 in the belly of the beast, Indiana University, justifiably famous for its folklore program. Scheub got up and gave a presentation that called for an end to the terms "folklore" and "folktale." Naturally most of the participants were outraged. Nevertheless, they welcomed his work. (13) (1972) was like no article in the Journal of American Folklore to that date. His article may have baffled the folklorists but they knew quality when they saw it. This continued with (15) (1972) where he published a paper on the artistry of his favorite storyteller, Nkosikazi Zenani, and included one of the best narratives she had created (16) (1972). William Bascom, a titan of folklore and anthropology, included a Scheub article in (27) (1977), and Alan Dundes, perhaps the most renowned American folklorist, included a previously published piece in a book of his (19) (1978). [End Page 9]

In the meantime Scheub had begun publishing articles in the prestigious New Literary History. This journal found home to the most luminous minds of the late twentieth century. These include Harold Bloom, Max Black, Gerard Genette, Tsvetan Todorov, Robert Kellogg, Fredric Jameson, Walter Ong, Eric Havelock, Northrup Frye, Roland Barthes, and many others. (19) (1975) uses his previously established concepts of core cliché, expansible image, and parallel image sets and emphasizes the role of repetition throughout. As in most of his articles he uses examples from his own collection and that of others. In (25) (1977) he is concerned, as he often is, with the use of the body in oral performance. In (37) (1987) he turns from narrative to the world of poetry and its relation to history. Much importance is laid on the concept of sound itself.

I was deeply puzzled when I found several references to Scheub's articles in a journal called The Opera Prompter, a journal found only at the University of Wisconsin (and through interlibrary loan). As it turned out, it was a journal that ran out an issue whenever the University of Wisconsin Opera put on a production. Still Scheub gave it his all. He published four articles in all as varied as an opera based on Anne Sexton's poetical rehash of the Brothers Grimm, another based on an even wider source of tales, and another whose inspiration is...


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