Folklore and Life Histories in Post-Sandy Brooklyn

By Miriam Laytner, 2012
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In 2012, I came home to New York to complete a master’s in oral history, which gave me an ethics-first approach to interviewing firmly grounded in a multidisciplinary background. My interest in Caribbean folklore aligned perfectly with the development of Harborlore: Where River Meets the Sea, a summer-long festival celebrating water-based cultures in Brooklyn and Brooklyn’s history as a harbor town. However, before I could schedule my first interview, Hurricane Sandy struck. Many parts of Brooklyn were devastated and residents scrambled to pull their lives together before winter. Harborlore, once a lighthearted celebration of Brooklyn’s water-based heritage, became a serious point of reflection for both participants and audiences.

Miriam Laytner HeadshotMiriam Laytner graduated from Barnard College in 2009 with a BA in history. Her senior thesis, “Spiders, Whips and Priests,” discussed the use of Anansi tales from West Africa as a means of cultural resistance in post-colonial Suriname and Jamaica. Her Oral History Masters thesis revolved around life history interviews conducted with Caribbean storytellers living in Brooklyn in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and sought to explore the connection between the interviewees’ personal stories, traditional lore from the Caribbean and their understandings of severe weather events in the Caribbean and New York. Miriam is now in the second year of her Ph.D. in Anthropology at the University of Oklahoma, where she is focused on perceptions of water and water rights during periods of severe weather and weather-related crises. Her interests include ecological folklore, new media technology, the history of New York City and the Caribbean, storytelling, and legal anthropology.

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