What does one do with a PhD in folklore?
This is a question I frequently hear when I meet new people. And for me, the answer is a simple one: I teach folklore content in my college courses, I do research in my field and publish it in academic journals, and I write poetry and short fiction influenced by fairy tales.
Most of these conversations end with the person sighing, “That’s so cool…I wish I’d gotten a chance to study folklore in college!”
And I’m always a little bummed to hear this, because despite the prevalence of folklore in our everyday lives, there aren’t a ton of universities that offer folklore as a major or even a standalone class. Even though I specialize in the study of gender and sexuality in fairy tales, my undergraduate education in UC Berkeley trained me as a folklore generalist, so I spot folklore everywhere: in our holidays and family recipes, in our body art and crafting hobbies, in our use of slang and folk medicine, and so on.
So I decided to write a book aimed at the general public to explain all of these connections, in order to make folklore studies accessible to all. I continue to publish my research in specialized academic journals too, but let’s just say that I’ve become a bit disillusioned over the years about all the (unpaid) labor that goes into academic writing and publishing, for the end product to only reach a handful of scholars at a time, thanks to gatekeeping and paywalls and such. I knew at the same time that I wanted to self-publish, because I have absolutely no chill (traditional publishing can take years) and I wanted complete creative control over my product.
Drawing on over 5 years of blog posts and essays, I luckily had enough material for almost a whole book, and after writing a few new essays and making some decisions about how to frame all the knowledge that went into the book, it was ready to go within months. I leaned on my network of writer friends to find a copyeditor and cover designers, and they were also helpful in my attempts to navigate self-publishing for the first time (there were many panicky moments on my end!).
Folklore 101 launched on Halloween of 2021, and thanks to colleagues, friends, and family, it was a #1 bestseller on Amazon as a folklore/mythology pre-order book for a short time! The thing that tickles me the most is hearing from people I’ve never met before on Twitter that they’re buying and enjoying my book, since it shows that my plan for folklore world domination – er, my reach as an author – is growing.
For those of us who are specifically creative writers, I have plans for a new book on how to incorporate folklore into writing and worldbuilding…but I still think there’s a lot of useful information in Folklore 101 if you want to better understand folklore in order to incorporate it in your writing. Every culture has folklore, and fictional cultures should be no exception. Or if you’re looking for inspiration in the form of fun folklore texts you can weave into retellings, I’ve got those too, especially in the chapters on various folklore genres where I give links to texts and examples.
I feel that publishing Folklore 101 with an eye towards making academic folklore studies accessible to the general public has made me a better writer, in addition to giving me a working understanding of self-publishing. I hope that I’ve inspired more people to learn about the role that folklore plays in their daily lives, as well as the possibilities for using folklore in creative ways.
Anyway, please feel free to check out the book, available in e-book, paperback, and hardback form! And I’d love to hear from you if you’ve read the book and want to chat about it! I’m always on Twitter as @foxyfolklorist.
Thanks to Carina for inviting me to write this guest blog post!
Author Bio: Jeana Jorgensen earned her PhD in folklore from Indiana University. She researches gender and sexuality in fairy tales and fairy-tale retellings, folk narrative more generally, body art, dance, and feminist/queer theory. Her poetry has appeared at Strange Horizons, Nevermore Journal, Liminality, Glittership, and other venues, and she also blogs and writes fiction.