The University of Wisconsin Press


African Studies / Anthropology / Folklore & Oral History



The Poem in the Story
Music, Poetry, and Narrative
Harold Scheub


Crossing boundaries between oral and literate storytelling, between "modern" and "primitive," this book reaches for the very heart of a story
. . .and finds poetry.

Fact and fiction meet at the boundaries, the betwixt and between where transformations occur. This is the area of ambiguity where fiction and fact become endowed with meaning, and this is the area—where ambiguity, irony, and metaphor join forces—that Harold Scheub exposes in all its nuanced and evocative complexity in The Poem in the Story.

In a career devoted to exploring the art of the African storyteller, Scheub has conducted some of the most interesting and provocative investigations into nonverbal aspects of storytelling, the complex relationship between artist and audience, and, most dramatically, the role played by poetry in storytelling. This book is his most daring effort yet, an unconventional work that searches out what makes a story artistically engaging and emotionally evocative, the metaphorical center that Scheub calls "the poem in the story." Drawing on extensive fieldwork in southern Africa and decades of experience as a researcher and teacher, Scheub develops an original approach—a blend of field notes, diary entries, photographs, and texts of stories and poems—that guides readers into a new way of viewing, even experiencing, meaning in a story. Though this work is largely focused on African storytelling, its universal applications emerge when Scheub brings the work of storytellers as different as Shakespeare and Faulkner into the discussion.

"Scheub has gone to much greater length than any scholar I know to deduce, by extrapolating from as wide a reach of evidence as possible, the driving aesthetic impulse in a storytelling tradition. His concentrated gaze on the organizing 'lyrical center' enables Scheub to show why a good story is a good story, whether in an oral or a literate tradition."—Isidore Okpewho, SUNY–Binghamton

author photoHarold Scheub is the Evjue-Bascom Professor of Humanities in the Department of African Languages and Literature at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He is the author of many books, including The Tongue Is Fire: South African Storytellers and Apartheid, The Tongue Is Fire and editor of The World and the Word, all published by the University of Wisconsin Press.

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December 2002
384 pp. 6 x 9   
20 b/w photos

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