Stealing away from society's conventions: Negotiations of voice in the work of Ruby Pickens Tartt

Tina Naremore Jones


Though once heralded by folklorist John Lomax as a "bright refulgent star," the name Ruby Pickens Tartt today carries with it little recognition of local legend and academic scholarship. Tarnish has not always covered this refulgent star. In 1937, Tartt recorded 305 songs as part of the WPA's Federal Writers' Project. In addition, she wrote short stories which were included in such publications as The Southwest Review and The Best Short Stories of 1945 . Despite these accomplishments, Tartt's voice most often comes to present-day readers through the words of other writers and is therefore often distorted. While works such as B. A. Botkin's Lay My Burden Down and A Southern Treasury of Folklore , Carl Carmer's A Star Fell on Alabama , and Harold Courlander's The Big Old World of Richard Creeks pay homage to Tartt by using her work, they also relegate Tartt into obscurity by rewriting her to fit their ideals. The expansion of the American literary canon over the last twenty-five years has demonstrated that to read the texts that have long been considered the cornerstones of American literature is to only hear one side of the story, i.e. the white male perspective. For too long, Tartt has been a missing element in folklore studies and gender studies. She has been seen only from the perspective of male-generated texts. Her life and her work become texts that afford us an opportunity to see a small community in the South from a multi-racial perspective prior to desegregation. By problematizing the idea of voice to include Tartt's primary sources (black artists), her audience (white community), and even the audience of this present text, we can engage issues of negotiation wherein people explore the impact our own idea of self has in our relationships to other people. To do this, I suggest that is time to read Tartt through the texts she created. For this reason I will look at Tartt through the genres in which she worked. I do not study the various genres for the form per se , but their function in locating the voice of Tartt for the modern reader.