Carmine Prioli: Teacher, Scholar, Folklorist, Editor, and Friend
by Karen Willis Amspacher
with an endnote by Thomas McGowan
If this citation were to follow the usual protocol, this is the place where a long list of Dr. Prioli’s academic credentials, career accomplishments, published articles, and the like would go. However, for Carmine (that’s with a long-“i”) Prioli, “We’re not going there!” His commitment to North Carolina folklife is well documented in the endnote of this article. Carmine’s work—and the reason for this award—run deeper than any list of activities could ever reflect. So, this nomination is about his relationship with the people—the folks of North Carolina, in particular the coast of North Carolina, specifically Harkers Island in Down East Carteret County, and what that has meant to the local people who have been privileged to be part of that relationship.
For those of us who live in places like Harkers Island, with all its rich traditions still visible on the landscape, it’s not unusual for a college student (or even a professor) to “take to us.” (That means stop and talk, try to get to know us, visit often, take pictures, make notes, etc.) We have figured out that we are “different”—or at least “interesting,” that we talk funny, that we think differently, that we are a people apart from the mainstream of people around places like Chapel Hill and Cary, on the move, moving here, moving there.
We have grown accustomed to the questions, usually the questions that go something like “What kind of wood is that?” or “Who invented the flair bow?” Or remarks like “Say something!” We pretty much do all we can to help answer those same questions over and over, gracefully and respectfully. We appreciate folks coming to ask, an occasional magazine or newspaper article, or a high school or undergraduate research paper. What we are not used to are people like Carmine Prioli who get past the questions, the obvious, the surface, the drive-by view, and make a difference: a positive and lasting difference within us.
It is rare to find someone who takes the time to get to know (and I dare say “love”) us the way Carmine has. Carmine’s initial interest in boatbuilding has now evolved into years of caring, working, believing, struggling, hoping, giving, sometimes pushing hard, for the people who build, work, and appreciate not only those boats, but all the pieces of our heritage. Now Carmine—and all those who have continued to be touched by his classes, publications, presentations, and journals—know that we Islanders are more than boatbuilders, or decoy carvers, or quilters, or cooks. We are proud people, and rightly so. And yes, we are different, and that is okay.
Carmine’s work is not only telling others about us (as folklorists most often do), but more importantly Carmine has helped us understand ourselves. I believe that has been his greatest contribution to us, to the folklife traditions of North Carolina, to the academic community, and to all who will read his work and benefit from the many programs and projects he has been an integral part of. He has allowed us to be ourselves, to be different, to be hard and difficult, stubborn and determined, rough and rugged. He has stayed with us through the tears and battles to help us understand why we fight so hard for the things that make us different, the “things” that matter to us—“things” like wild horses and wooden boats, pound nets and sacred places.
He has helped us realize that those traditions have meaning far deeper than even we understood. Carmine has taken the time to listen and to help us listen to ourselves. He continues to listen and learn with us as we now realize that our “islandness” is not just of Harkers Island or Down East, but of islands that span across generations of watermen and islanders to places like Smith Island, Maryland, and Pellworm, Germany. Carmine continues to help us find our way as Islanders in a changing world with an uncertain future for places like the old Harkers Island.
Carmine Prioli is now part of our story. His research and writings will help define the way our history is recorded for generations yet to come. This special accomplishment alone gives cause for the honor of the Brown-Hudson Folklore Award. Yet, that is only part of the reason why we celebrate him with this honor. Carmine’s greatest contribution has been the work he has done within us, the people of Down East, as “islanders set apart,” in the way he has encouraged and believed in us, worked with us, rallied for us, and become one of us. Thank you, Carmine!
by Thomas McGowan
Early in my time as editor of the North Carolina Folklore Journal, past editor Richard Walser remarked that I had brought the footnote to the publication. Walser probably was offering mixed praise. The following note recognizes important academic accomplishments of Carmine Prioli without interrupting the insider’s praise and tone of Karen Amspacher’s appreciation.
Professor Prioli received his Master’s in English from Boston College in 1971 and his Ph.D. in English from State University of New York at Stony Brook in 1975, writing a dissertation on imagery in the poetry of Edward Taylor. Before joining the faculty at North Carolina State University, he taught at SUNY-Stony Brook, Boston University, and Tufts University. He has taught and served as an administrator at N.C. State since 1977. His courses are notable for their insightful scholarship and careful planning, but also for his kind and supportive attention to students, an attention he also has brought to generous administrative tours as Interim English Department Head, Director of Graduate Programs, Associate English Department Head and Director of Undergraduate Studies, Director of the Scholars of the College Program and the University Transition Program, and Park Faculty Scholar for the class of 2008. Any university or English department is lucky to have caring, intelligent, and efficient administrators, and Carmine has served patiently, productively, and generously in sometimes-repeated posts at N.C. State.
Carmine’s consultancies have also supported numerous local and professional projects. Again, his generosity and unobtrusive efficiency are marks of his consulting work, and Karen has appreciated his participation Down East well in her Brown-Hudson citation. He has served as a grant consultant for the Core Sound Water Fowl Museum and Heritage Center, chaired its exhibit planning committee from 2000 to 2006 and wrote its exhibit plan report in 2001, and wrote the report for N.C. State’s long distance learning plan in 1995. He has served as an editorial consultant for the Thomson Anthology of American Literature (Thomson/Wadsworth, 2006), two editions of the Prentice-Hall Anthology of American Literature (2002, 2005), and the forthcoming Oxford University Press Anthology of American Literature.
As a past editor of the North Carolina Folklore Journal, I especially appreciate his outstanding work as its editor from 2004 to 2005. His four issues are notable for the diversity of folklife covered, the quality of photography and design, a remarkable special issue developed from Barbara Lau’s exhibit on Cambodian folklife at the Greensboro Historical Museum, special attention to activities on Portsmouth Island and Down East, and the thoughtful editor’s introductions to each issue. I once accidentally encountered Carmine at Minor’s Printing in Boone; the accident was mine because he had driven up the mountain with purpose: to assure the print quality of the NCFJ issue by reviewing signatures as they first came off the press.
The bibliography below displays the extent and diversity of Dr. Prioli’s publications, but I also note the local quality of many topics. Carmine has paid attention to our state’s literary and traditional culture in his research and work.
A Carmine Prioli Bibliography
Hope for a Good Season: The Ca’e Bankers of Harkers Island. Asheboro, NC: Down Home Press, 1998.
Life at the Edge of the Sea: Essays on North Carolina’s Coast and Coastal Culture. Co-edited
with Candy Beal. Wilmington, NC: Coastal Carolina Press, 2002.
The Poems of General George S. Patton, Jr.: Lines of Fire. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1991.
The Wild Horses of Shackleford Banks. Winston-Salem: John H. Blair, 2007.
“Boat Building the Harkers Island Way.” Prioli and Beal, eds. Life at the Edge of the Sea: Essays on
North Carolina’s Coast and Coastal Culture. Wilmington, NC: Coastal Carolina Press, 2002. 113-18.
“Cemeteries, Gravestones, and the Changing Cultural Landscape.” Newsletter of the North Carolina
Institute of Applied History 2:1 (1983): 8-9.
“The Elusive Hare: A Quick Introduction to Figurative Language.” Exercise Exchange 22:2 (1978): 26-28.
“Editor’s Foreword.” North Carolina Folklore Journal 51.1 (Spring/Summer 2004);
51.2 (Fall/Winter 2004); 52.1(Spring/Summer 2005); 52.2 (Fall/Winter 2005).
“Emily Dickinson’s Reading of Francis Quarles.” Dickinson Studies 35 (June 1979): 3-7.
“Ethan Allen” and “John Hull.” American Writers Before 1800. Westport, CN: Greenwood,
1983. 27-29, 794-96.
“The Fu-Go Project.” [Japan’s secret WW II campaign to bomb the U.S. mainland.] American Heritage
33:3 (April/May 1982): 88-92. [Reprinted in World War II: The Best of American Heritage. New York:
American Heritage Press, 1991. 227-34.]
“The Harkers Island Work Boat: Draft Horse of the Carolina Sounds.” North Carolina Folklore Journal
43:2 (Summer-Fall 1996): 120-27.
“History and Folklore from the Cemetery.” Tar Heel Junior Historian 24:1 (Fall 1984): 12-14.
“The Indian ‘Princess’ and the Architect: Origin of a North Carolina Legend.” North Carolina
Historical Review 60.3 (July 1983): 283-303.
“Introduction: Papers by Cornelius Lanczos as Thinker, Educator and Humanist.” William R. Davis,
et al., eds. The Cornelius Lanczos Collected Published Papers. Raleigh: NC State U, 1998. IV: 3-4.
“King Arthur in Khaki: The Medievalism of General George S. Patton, Jr.” Studies in Popular Culture
10.1 (1987): 42-50.
“Kurt Vonnegut’s Duty-Dance.” Essays in Literature 1.3 (1973): 43-51.
“Living on Hope.” Wildlife in North Carolina 64.1 (Nov. 2000): 16-21.
“Miss Elsie Riddick.” Speaking for Ourselves: Women of the South. New York: Pantheon, 1984. 157-62.
“1996 North Carolina Folklore Society Community Traditions Award: Core Sound Decoy Carver’s
Guild.” North CarolinaFolklore Journal 43.1 (1996): 4-8.
“The Passing of the Bayhouses.” With Wayne Smith. Long Island Forum 40.10 (Oct. 1977): 202-04.
“The Poems of General George S. Patton, Jr.” Journal of American Culture 8:4 (1985): 71-82.
[Reprinted in Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism 79 (1999): 297-307.]
“A Recollection of Tim McLaurin.” Pembroke Magazine 36 (2004): 74.
“Review Essay: The Scholarship of Early New England Gravestones.” Early American Literature 14.3
(Winter 1979-80): 328-36.
“Rubber Dentures for the Masses.” American Heritage of Invention and Technology 7:2 (Fall 1991): 28-37.
“The Second Sinking of the Maine.” American Heritage 41.8 (Dec. 1990): 94-101.
“Sir Walter Raleigh.” Flora and MacKethan, eds. Companion to Southern Literature. Baton Rouge:
LSU Press, 2002. 720-21.
“The Stormy Birth of Cape Lookout National Seashore.” Prioli and Beal, eds. Life at the Edge
of the Sea: Essays on North Carolina’s Coast and Coastal Culture. Wilmington, NC:
Coastal Carolina Press, 2002. 125-45.
“The Ursuline Outrage.” [Destruction of Ursuline convent by Protestant mob in 19th century Boston.]
American Heritage 33.2 (Feb./March 1982): 100-05. [Reprinted in Liberty: A Magazine of
Religious Freedom 82.3 (May/June 1987): 18-23.]
“‘Wonder Girl from the West’: Vinnie Ream and the Congressional Statue of Abraham Lincoln.”
Journal of American Culture 12.4 (Winter 1989): 1-20.
[Received Honorable Mention, Carl Bode Award for best article of the year in JAC.]
Notes and Reviews
“The Art of Atrocity: Review of The Holocaust and the Literary Imagination.” Gradiva: A Journal
of Theory and Praxis 1.1 (1976): 81-83.
“Boston’s busing battle and its victims.” Review of Common Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the
Lives of Three AmericanFamilies by J. Anthony Lukas. [Raleigh] News and Observer
19 January 1986: 4D.
“The gentle little killer who was ‘adman perfect.’” Review of No Name on the Bullet: A Biography
of Audie Murphy by Don Graham. [Raleigh] News and Observer 27 Aug. 1989.
Review of North Carolina Legends by Richard Walser. North Carolina Historical Review
58.1(Winter 1981): 79-80.
“Patton’s War in Iambic Pentameter.” [Raleigh] News and Observer 12 October 1986: 4D.
“A Reading of the Ruth Carter Stone.” Association for Gravestone Studies Newsletter 1.2 (1977): 5.
Review of Western Rivermen, 1763-1861: Ohio and Mississippi Boatmen and the Myth of the
Alligator Horse by Michael Allen. North Carolina Historical Review 68.4 (October 1991): 490-91.
Review of Simpkinsville and Vicinity: Arkansas Stories of Ruth McKenery Stuart
ed. by Ethel C. Simpson. North Carolina Historical Review 60.4 (Oct. 1983): 510-11.
“Safety First.” Forbes 133.7 (26 March 1984): 24.
“Writing Without Thinking.” Review of Writing Without Teachers by Peter Elbow.
Freshman English Shoptalk 1.2 (1973).
Karen Willis Amspacher of Harkers Island was recently described on the Our State magazine website as a “fourth-generation native and one of the most valiant defenders of Down East.”
Amspacher, Karen Willis. “Carmine Prioli: Teacher, Scholar, Folklorist, Editor, and Friend.” North Carolina Folklore Journal 59.2 (2012): 16-22.