- Celebrating 100 Years of the Texas Folklore Society, 1909-2009
The Texas Senate recognized the centennial of the Texas Folklore Society (TFS) by declaring April 10, 2009, when members of the Society were convened in Nacogdoches for their annual meeting, "Texas Folklore Society Day." It is appropriate that the Society's publication for its centennial year is a festschrift commemorating this milestone. As the book's title suggests, Celebrating 100 Years of the Texas Folklore Society, 1909-2009 is just such a volume, and it provides a set of snapshots of what the organization means to many of its members.
Aside from the American Folklore Society (founded in 1888), TFS has enjoyed the longest continuous run of any folklore-related organization in the country. Founded in 1906, the Missouri Folklore Society predated it, but that group went on a many-year hiatus before it was successfully resurrected in 1979. Other state organizations, such as those in New York and Indiana, are still flourishing, but are of more recent vintage and in some cases have, like the Missourians, experienced significant gaps in their histories. Some state organizations, such as those in Mississippi and Kentucky, are now apparently defunct. This volume suggests one explanation for TFS's remarkable longevity.
Unlike the American Folklore Society (which, despite what one writer in the volume intimates, remains a vital, thriving group), TFS is not a professional organization. Despite the term being used for it in this volume, it's not really an "academic" organization either. It is an amateur organization—that is, one composed mostly of people who are enthusiastic about the subject of folklore for the sake of their own interest and pleasure and about the opportunities for fellowship that TFS provides for them. That commendable amateur spirit offers an explanation for the Society's making it to the centennial mark. Though some professional folklorists may grouse that the tendency to foreground fellowship over scholarly substance can undermine the argument for the study of folklore being taken seriously in academe, even the most churlish cannot argue with a hundred years of success.
Most of the essays included in the book are personal reminiscences, some written expressly for the book and some originally read at the Society's annual meetings. Though readers not personally acquainted with the authors will not find the [End Page 201] particulars of these essays as fascinating as their friends will, the commonality of experience and theme does have general interest. Authors seem to have wandered into the folds of TFS by a similar route: introduction to the Society through a friend or colleague, tentative attendance at a meeting with particular pleasure in the Thursday-evening songfest called a "hoot" (a term popularized in the leftwing folksong scene in late-1940s New York City), hesitantly preparing and reading a paper on the program at a subsequent meeting, taking along the whole family to meet new friends made at Abilene or Uvalde or wherever those first meetings were held, and regularly incorporating the trip to the TFS meeting each spring into the family's customary calendar. Heroic figures are invoked: some such as Dobie, Scarborough, Paredes, and Brewer known mainly through oral tradition from older Society members; some seen in the flesh and integrated into the writer's circle of friends. Read one after another by someone who does not know the authors, these reminiscences evince a pattern of developing enthusiasm and sense of a community based on shared interest and solidified upon personal relationships.
I recommend this book to readers who are thinking about joining the organization. If its intention is to give a sense of what TFS is all about, it has accomplished that purpose. Although readers will not learn much about the materials of folklore from this volume, they will learn a good deal about an organization that has celebrated it.