Undergraduate Victoria Blake Wins American Folklore Society’s William A. Wilson Prize


In the fall of 2023, undergraduate Victoria Blake’s paper, “Tales of the Supernatural as Told by My Parents,” won the American Folklore Society’s Wilson Prize for the Best Undergraduate Student Paper in Folk Belief or Religious Folklife. Blake presented the paper as part of a panel comprised entirely of UH folklore students at the American Folklore Society’s annual meeting. 

FORWARD caught up with Blake to learn more. 

Could you tell me about the paper, and what the experience of winning the prize was like? 

My paper was on beliefs. For my class at UH—Introduction to Folklore—we were asked to write a paper about our own folklore, and there are a lot of stories about the supernatural in my family. And so I got to explore all these different stories, usually divided along the lines of ones told by my mom versus ones told by my dad, and the differences between the two of them, and how the two of them work together to tell the stories, and the roles that each of them plays. I had a really fun time writing it. Some of these stories are a little wild, so it's fun to put them on paper and get to share them with people. My professor encouraged me to submit the paper to the Wilson Prize, which deals with religious and folk beliefs for undergraduate papers. So I sent it in and just kind of forgot about it. It wasn't until I got the award money in the mail that it was like, wait, does this mean this mean I won? 

How did you come to your interest in folklore? 

I'm kind of split nationality between the U.S. and Mexico. So there are some times where I feel that I'm an observer into both rather than a full participant in either. There are parts of Americana and American folklore—like some of the Paul Bunyan stuff—that are wild to me. That's why I thought it would be really interesting to get to study folklore in a more formal setting. And it ended up being really fun. We got to learn more about the history of witchcraft, and by extension, the Satanic panic. It was also fun to get to read specific urban legends, and all these variants of them, which is just basically gossiping, which is fun. As for my specific topic of interest: I'm not much of a believer in the supernatural, but I do think that people tell these stories or believe in these things for a reason: that it has some function or purpose, even if I don't really believe the content to be 100% true. I'd grown up hearing these stories, and I thought it would be interesting to get to see: what is the motivation or the story behind the story? What does it say about human motives?

What was it like to participate in a panel at the American Folklore Society meeting? 

Terrifying. It was my first time ever doing anything even remotely similar, and I get a little nervous speaking in public, so it was one of the scariest things I've done in recent memory. But fortunately I got to go first, which meant that once it was done, I got to just sit back and hear my co-panelists read their own work. Their work was so good. I was a little nervous that people would ask questions I don't know the answer to, but everyone there was super sweet and welcoming, and Dr. Lindahl was there every step of the way, constantly offering support. It was just a really cool experience. I'm so glad that I did say yes, despite my initial terror. 

Closing thoughts on the role of folklore in your English studies? 

Folklore lets us study the very thing that makes us human: the stories we tell each other, and the stories on which our communities and our cities and towns are founded. I think that’s both what’s really interesting about folklore and also really interesting about English in general: it’s the study of what makes us human.