At its recent annual meeting in Buffalo, N.Y., the American Folklore Society (AFS) named prominent American folklorist Maggie Holtzberg ’79 of Boston, Mass., as the 2018 recipient of its prestigious Benjamin A. Botkin Prize.
The Botkin Prize is given each year by the American Folklore Society and its Public Programs Section in the name of Benjamin A. Botkin (1901–1975) to recognize lifetime achievement in public folklore. Botkin—eminent New Deal–era folklorist, national folklore editor of the Federal Writers’ Project in 1938–1939, advocate for the public responsibilities of folklorists, author and compiler of many publications on American folklore for general audiences, and head of the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress 1942–1945—has had a major impact on the field of public folklore and on the public understanding of folklore.
In its report, the 2018 Botkin Prize Committee praised the outstanding contribution of this year’s awardee, noting: “Maggie Holtzberg has surveyed, documented, and promoted public understanding of the traditional arts and heritage in three states. Since 1999, she has been manager of the Folk Arts & Heritage Program at Mass Cultural Council. Holtzberg helped unite and re-energize folklorists across Massachusetts and went on to administer a fieldwork program that was the basis for creating statewide initiatives to document, recognize, and support traditional arts—and artists—through apprenticeships, artist fellowships, and folklife programming at festivals. Her focus has been on supporting and raising visibility for the state’s outstanding practitioners of traditional craft, music, dance, and sacred arts.”
Prior to this work, Holtzberg was folklife program director of the Georgia Council for the Arts. Her work in Alabama resulted in the 1994 film Gandy Dancers, which aired on PBS. She holds a BA in music from Wesleyan and a PhD in folklore and folklife from the University of Pennsylvania.
An accomplished fiddler, Holtzberg has drawn on her experiences as a professional musician to effectively build conversation, trust, and empathy with other artists over her career as a public folklorist. Career highlights since 1988 in public sector folklore include producing films, sound recordings, radio programs, and exhibitions. She has directed grant and folk arts in education programs. A few of her notable partnerships in Massachusetts have been with the Lowell Folk Festival and Lowell National Historical Park to enhance public presentation of tradition bearers.
One of Holtzberg’s lasting legacies in Massachusetts is her curation of the 2008 exhibition Keepers of Traditions: Art and Folk Heritage in Massachusetts. Featuring 100 works by over 70 Massachusetts traditional artists, the work lives on in book form, website, and blog. As a textbook, it has had an impact on the field of folklore.
Recently, Holtzberg has advocated for immigrant masters of music and dance by producing showcase concerts in highly prestigious venues, providing artists with professionally produced video of their performances.
Throughout her career, Holtzberg has earned the fierce loyalty and respect of her colleagues, mentees, interns, and collaborators. Her work with occupational folklife is considered by many to be a pinnacle of excellence. Her field-generated archival records are of the highest quality. In 2016, her program’s field research was transferred to the Massachusetts State Archives. Holtzberg’s dissertation research was added to the Archive of Folk Culture at the American Folklife Center in 2018.
Holtzberg has served the field of folklore as an AFS board member; mentoring other folklorists; and being an advocate for several artists, resulting in six receiving an NEA National Heritage Fellowship. She has successfully transformed the culture of multiple city, state, and federal programs through her outstanding work in public folklore. Holtzberg served on the faculty of the 2017 Summer Folklore Institute, which took place in the Hulun Buir region of Inner Mongolia and was sponsored by AFS and the China Folklore Society.
The American Folklore Society, founded in 1888, is an association of people who study folklore and communicate knowledge about folklore through the world. Its more than 2,200 members and subscribers are scholars, teachers, and libraries at colleges and universities; professionals in arts and cultural organizations; and community members studying and conserving folk traditions.