John W. Roberts

Folklorist John Roberts is Associate Dean of the College of Humanities at the Ohio State University and Professor in the Department of English. Formerly Deputy Chairman of the National Endowment of the Humanities, Director of the African American Studies program and Associate Professor of Folklore at the University of Pennsylvania, he has published important works on African American folklore and folk narrative. His books, From Trickster to Badman: the Black Folk Hero in Slavery and Freedom, and From Hucklebuck to Hip Hop: Social Dance in the African American Community in Philadelphia, and more than 20 articles have given us fresh (and progressive) lenses for considering the values and meanings of particular African American vernacular forms— folktales, narratives about Juneteenth (the tradition of June 19th emancipation day celebrations), family reunions, and recollections of social dance in South Philadelphia. Roberts has shown how these forms have been persistently misread or disregarded by well-intentioned but problematic commentators. He has also painstakingly made cases for the integrity, authenticity, and authority of these vernacular community traditions. He is working on a book on understandings of African American folklore, African American Folklore in a Discourse of Folkness, and lectures widely on folklore, history, and memory. 


African American Folklore in A Discourse of Folkness (a work in progress). 

"'The Body Remembers What the Mind Forgets': History and Memory in African American Vernacular Dance" forthcoming inMind/Body Split in African American Culture edited by Lindon Barrett. 

"African American Family Reunions in the Post-Migration Era'' forthcoming in the volume Festivals and Celebrations in American Culture, edited by Jack Santino.

“Tricksters, Martyrs, Black Firsts: Representations of the Hero in African American Folk Art,” in Souls Grown Deep: African American Vernacular Art of the South, Volume II. Edited by Paul Arnett and William Arnett, Atlanta: Tinwood Books, 2001, pp. 74-91

"African American Folklore in A Discourse of Folkness," New York Folklore 18 (2000), 73-90.

"Introduction" to "Through African-Centered Prisms," a special issue of New York Folklore 18 (2000), 1-10.

“Horace Pippin and the African American Vernacular,” Cultural Critique, 41 (Winter 1999), 5-36.

"'Hidden Right Out in the Open': Folklore and the Problem of Identity," Journal of American Folklore, 112 (1999), 119-139.

"Gerald L. Davis (1941-97)," Journal of American Folklore112:443 (Winter 1999), 81-83.

“Horace Pippin,” in Self-Taught Artists of the 20th Century: An American Anthology. New York: Museum of American Folk Art, 1998, pp. 72-77.

"African American Folklore," in the Encyclopedia of African American Culture and History, edited by Jack Salzman, David Lionel Smith and Cornel West, New York: MacMillan Library Reference, 1996. 

From Hucklebuck to Hip Hop: Social Dance in the African American Community in Philadelphia. Philadelphia: Odunde, Inc., 1995.

"History and Regionalism in the Works of John Mason Brewer,” New York Folklore, 21 (1995), 113-126.

"Diversity and the Study of African American Folklore," Western Folklore. (Winter 1994), 157-171.

"'Remembering the Spirit of Celebration in a South Carolina Community," in Jubilation! African American Celebrations in the Southeast, ed. William H. Wiggins, Jr., and Douglas DeNatale. Columbia, SC: McKissick Museum, 1993, pp. 43-49. 

"The Black Folk Arts: A Commentary," in The Arts of Black Folk (1992), pp.9-18.

"The Afro-American Animal Trickster as Hero," in Redefining American Literary History, edited by A. Lavonne Brown Ruoff and Jerry W. Ward, New York: Modern Language Association, 1990, pp. 97-114.

"Bibliography of Afro-American Oral Literature," in Redefining American Literary, edited by A. Lavonne Brown Ruoff and Jerry W. Ward, History. New York: Modern Language Association, 1990, pp. 290-326. (with others)

From Trickster to Badman: The Black Folk Hero in Slavery and Freedom. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1989.

"The Individual and The Community in Two Short Stories by Ernest J. Gaines," Black American Literature Forum 18 (1984): 110-113.

"James Baldwin," in Thadious Davis and Trudier Harris, eds., Afro-American Fiction Writers After 1955. Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1984, 3-16.

"Stackolee and the Development of A Black Heroic Idea," Western Folklore 42 (1983): 179-190.

"Strategy, Morality and Worldview of the Afro-American Spirituals and Trickster Tales," Western Journal of Black Studies 6 (1982): 101-107.

"Railroad Bill and the American Outlaw Tradition," Western Folklore 41 (1982): 315-328.

"Joning: An Afro-American Verbal Form in St. Louis," Journal of the Folklore Institute 6 (1982): 101-107.

"Folklore of the Precocious Canine: Jim the Wonder Dog," Missouri Folklore Society Journal 3 (1981): 59-69.

"The Spook Light: A Missouri Parking Legend," Mid-America Folklore 7 (1980): 31-40.

"Slave Proverbs: A Perspective," Callaloo 4 (1978): 129-140.


Review of Zora Neale Hurston, , Mules and Men and Their Eyes Were Watching God iJournal of American Folklore 93 (1980): 463-466.

Review of Jay D. Edward, The Afro-American Trickster Tale: A Structural Analysis in Journal of American Folklore 94 (1981): 392-394.

Review of Daryl Dance, Long Gone: The Theme of Escape in Black Folklore and The Mecklenburg Six in Journal of American Folklore 102 (1989): 231-233.