Steve Zeitlin, Founding Director of City Lore
Steve Zeitlin is the founding director of City Lore, an organization dedicated to the preservation of cultural heritage.
History forms the root of our existence, and we pass it down the generations through our daily life. Despite modernisation, we never tend to abandon our cultures and traditions as it is so deep-rooted. It finds space in the tiny things we do every day that sometimes we do not even realise that.
And that forms the beauty of life. In today’s episode, we have with us Steve Zeitlin, a folklorist who works to preserve the New York City’s folk life by honoring the people who do little things in their way by spreading and safeguarding their traditions and culture.
About Steve Zeitlin
Steve Zeitlin is the founding director of City Lore, an organisation engaged in celebrating and preserving folklore, history, and community traditions. Steve believes in the idea of honoring the living legacy of stories, places, traditions through recognising the ordinary humans who are knowingly and unknowingly, consciously and subconsciously preserving it.
In today’s episode of TBCY, we delve to discuss the importance of these traditions that give meaning to the concept of life. An episode that will make you feel good about the world and ponder about what we can do to preserve our culture.
Steve reveals that he developed an interest in folklore on one lucky day while spending a day in the library of the University of Pennsylvania, as he was on a break from his literature studies.
He recalls a poem he read: “I should worry! I should care! I should marry a millionaire! He should die, I should cry, I should marry another guy!”
He recalls his days when he first came to New York to get a job at Queens Council On the Arts. The birth of the idea of opening an organisation like City Lore came as he spent time talking to people about their interests. His passion for teeny tiny things like games that people played as children inspired him to work towards the cause of preserving the community folklore.
Celebrating Ordinary People
Steve narrates some beautiful stories of people who voluntarily do things to spread happiness that it feels wrong to call them ordinary people. He narrates one such story of a homeless man who spent his time in the subway trying to guide the lost people.
There are many such amazing stories that he shares.
In a city which is known to be full of celebrities, he felt there was a need to celebrate these people. He shares how the hall of fame by City Lore honoring these individuals makes them feel.
He talks about the philosophy of his book’s premise. It is called “The Poetry of Everyday Life” and is available on Amazon. He believes in the artfulness of life as the true meaning of life, which is way beyond any exceptional book we read or the best movie we see. He believes it’s in the stories and memories.
Likewise, he drew inspiration and poems from all the incredible people he has met so far in his life. He still carries the philosophy of one such person, as he recalls: “Too many things go wrong and not enough things go right. Wrong is what makes the world go round. Wrong is king. Wrong rules. Wrong dominates. The world is actually geared to go wrong. There’s too many ways for things to go wrong, and it’s impossible for everything to go right.”
He feels content and proud to have made a career by celebrating people, bringing artists to school for growth, and preserving traditions.
Steve Zeitlin is the founding director of City Lore, an organization dedicated to the preservation of cultural heritage. With a focus on New York, but with an increasing number of projects of national and international scope, City Lore works with grassroots cultures to ensure their living legacy in stories and histories, places and traditions. City Lore’s successful programs include Place Matters, the People’s Hall of Fame, and the POEMobile which projects poems on to buildings in tandem with live readings and performances. In 2007, he received the Benjamin Botkin Award from the American Folklore Society for lifetime achievement in public folklore. In 2010, he was awarded an Archie Green fellowship from the Library of Congress. His commentaries have appeared on the Op Ed pages of The New York Times and Newsday. He also coproduced with NPR producer Dave Isay the storytelling series American Talkers for NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday and Morning Edition.