Sunday, November 8, 2009

William Ferris

From a conversation with William Ferris, author of Give My Poor Heart East: Voices of the Mississippi Blues (University of North Carolina Press, November 2009):

Q: In the introduction to Give My Poor Heart Ease, you mention that "While I may live and work in other places, my real home is the farm. It is my spiritual compass." How so? And what was it that ultimately led you away from your family's farm and down Highway 61?

A: Growing up in an isolated rural community with the black and white families who lived near my home shaped me in deep, lasting ways. Stories told by my grandfather, books read aloud by my mother, and hymns sung at Rose Hill Church are memories that to this day are incredibly vivid. These voices shaped my identity in deep, lasting ways.

What ultimately led me away from my family's farm was education: first to Brooks School in North Andover, Massachusetts, then to Davidson College in Davidson, North Carolina, to Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, to Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, and finally to the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Earl MacCormac, my philosophy professor at Davidson College, later told me that I had "more degrees than a thermometer."

While these schools were far from my family's farm, each in their own way helped me tack a course back down Highway 61. While at Brooks School in the late fifties, I began a pattern of recording and photographing musicians each time I returned to the farm. As a graduate student in folklore at the University of Pennsylvania in the late sixties, this work became the focus of my dissertation. It was also at the University of Pennsylvania that I began to use film to document the blues worlds in which I found myself increasingly immersed.

Q: You began collecting images and recordings for this book at a very young age. How old were you when you began? What time span does the book cover?

A: I began taking photographs at the age of...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue