Department of Anthropology

Kirin Narayan: The Face of Ethnography in Literary Mirrors

Mon, October 22, 2012 | SAC 5.118

12:00 PM

"The Face of Ethnography in Literary Mirrors: Learning from Anton Chekhov"

A talk by Kirin Narayan, Anthropology, University of Wisconsin

When ethnography enters the hands of skilled writers without stakes in anthropology, might their loosening of disciplinary conventions remind us of new possibilities in form?  Dr. Narayan turns to Anton Pavlovitch Chekhov (1860-1904), whose nonfiction account of a Russian penal colony, Sakhalin Island, draws on ethnographic methods: three months of intensive field research and a census of almost 10,000 inhabitants.  The lively imaginative force that Chekhov brings to his more widely known short stories and plays adds unexpected dimensions to this work, too.  She describes Chekhov’s activist vision for his book, and what we might learn from his talent for extending sober descriptions of what is perceived in the present through imaginative juxtaposition with other related times, places, possibilities, and haunting absences.
Kirin Narayan is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  She is the author of Storytellers, Saints and Scoundrels: Folk Narrative in Hindu Religious Teaching (Pennsylvania,1989), awarded the 1990 Victor Turner Prize for Ethnographic Writing from the American Anthropological Association and co-winner of the 1990 Elsie Clews Parsons Prize for Folklore from the American Folklore Society.  She also wrote Love, Stars and All That (Pocket Books, 1994), a novel; Mondays on the Dark Night of the Moon: Himalayan Foothill Folktales (Oxford, 1997) an ethnography composed around folktales retold by Urmila Devi Sood; My Family and Other Saints (Chicago, 2007), a family memoir; and Alive in the Writing: Crafting Ethnography in the Company of Chekhov (Chicago, 2012), a manual that offers ways to generate writing through examples and exercises.

Co-sponsored by the Humanities Institute and the South Asia Institute. For further information please contact Adriana Dingman at

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