Alan Govenar

Alan Govenar

Fellow: Awarded 2010
Field of Study: Folklore and Popular Culture

Competition: US & Canada

Alan Govenar is a writer, folklorist, photographer, and filmmaker. He received a B.A. with distinction in American Folklore from Ohio State University in 1974, a M.A. in Folklore from the University of Texas at Austin in 1975, and a Ph.D. in Arts and Humanities from the University of Texas at Dallas in 1984. Govenar is the author of more than twenty books, including Stoney Knows How: Life as a Tattoo Artist (1981; rev. ed., 2003), Deep Ellum and Central Track: Where the Black and White Worlds of Dallas Converged (1998), coauthored with Jay F. Brakefield, Stompin’ at the Savoy: The Story of Norma Miller (2006), Extraordinary Ordinary People: Five American Masters of Traditional Arts (2006), Untold Glory: African Americans in Pursuit of Freedom, Opportunity and Achievement (2007), Texas Blues: The Rise of Contemporary Sound (2008), and Lightnin’ Hopkins: His Life and Blues (2010). His book Osceola: Memories of a Sharecropper’s Daughter (2000) won First Place in the New York Book Festival (Children’s Non-Fiction), a Boston Globe–Hornbook Honor, and an Orbis Pictus Honor from the National Council of Teachers of English. In addition to writing nonfiction Govenar has also made fourteen artist books with his prose, poetry, and photographs that are in major museum collections, including the Museum of Modern Art (New York), Victoria and Albert Museum (London), Meermanno Museum (The Hague), Museum of Fine Arts (Boston), and Centre Georges Pompidou (Paris). Govenar’s article “Blind Lemon Jefferson: The Myth and the Man,” which was published in Black Music Journal (Spring 2000), gave rise to his and Akin Babatunde’s musical Blind Lemon Blues (2004), which was presented in its world premiere at the Festival L’Imaginaire in Paris and the Forum Meyrin in Geneva, prior to a full-production off-Broadway at the York Theatre (2009) in New York City.

In 1985 Govenar founded Documentary Arts, Inc., which he describes as “a non-profit organization to broaden public knowledge and appreciation of the arts of different cultures in all media.” Documentary Arts seeks to fulfill its mission through the development of innovative exhibitions, publications, photographs, films, videos, radio series on traditional music and folk arts, folk artist in school programs, and interactive DVD-ROMs and websites, utilizing new technologies as a means to engage scholars and the general public. One of Documentary Arts’ richest resources is its Texas African American Photography (TAAP) archive, cofounded in 1995 by Mr. Govenar and Kaleta Doolin. Over the years, the TAAP archive has grown to include over 50,000 prints and negatives dating from the late 1840s to the present day, and is housed in a state-of-the-art archival facility in Dallas.

Govenar has mined this photography archive in curating a number of groundbreaking exhibitions, including The Early Years of Rhythm and Blues: The Photography of Benny Joseph (1986), which toured to thirty venues around the country and was accompanied by Govenar’s book of the same name (1991; rev. ed., 2004); Portraits of Community: African American Photography in Texas (1994) with a book by Govenar of the same name (1996); Facing the Rising Sun: Freedman’s Cemetery, on view at the African American Museum in Dallas from 2001 to 2011, accompanied by a catalog coedited by Govenar and Phillip Collins; and, most recently, Jasper Texas: The Community Photographs of Alonzo Jordan, which opened at the International Center of Photography in New York City in January 2011 and was accompanied by a book by Govenar published by Steidl. The latter exhibition was supported in part by his Guggenheim Fellowship.

Govenar has also directed or codirected about two dozen films, some of which, like Stoney Knows How (1981), are outgrowths of his books. Others are studies unto themselves, such as Texas Style (1984) on traditional fiddle music, which won a CINE Golden Eagle; Voyage of Doom (1998) on the French explorer La Salle, which was broadcast internationally as a coproduction with NOVA and ARTE; The Devil’s Swing (2005) on the music and culture of the Texas-Mexico border; The Poetry of Exactitude (La Poésie de l’exactitude) (2009) on Lucien Mouchet’s detailed and precise operable reproductions of carousels and fairground scenes, rendered to 1/120 scale of the originals; and Master Qi and the Monkey King (2011), which chronicles the work and experiences of Qi Shu Fang, who toured the world as a Chinese opera star before starting her new life in the United States. Govenar’s photographs of Qi Shu Fang and members of her company are the subject of the touring exhibition Dual Lives: Chinese Opera in New York City that opened at the Wright Museum of Art (2011).


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