Stephen Olbrys Gencarella

Stephen Olbrys
Associate Professor
N355 Integrative Learning Center

My research lies at the intersection of folklore studies, rhetorical studies, and performance studies. I am interested in two general issues: the promotion of a critical folklore studies as an activist scholarship to examine and redress social injustice, with particular attention to the constitutive nature of expressive culture; and the relationship between rhetorical criticism and social theory, especially to critique anti-democratic behavior and to advocate democratic modes of living with others.

Working at these intersections, my research often focuses on the ways that contemporary comedic and horror performances address, uphold, and criticize social and political anxieties. Occasionally I investigate myths of rhetoric in classical antiquity in order to include voices and concepts excluded from the rhetorical tradition. I also research the historical folklore of New England and its relation to cultural heritage tourism.

  • Joint Ph.D., Indiana University (Communication and Culture, and Folklore)
  • M.A., Tufts University (Classical Studies)
  • B.A., Providence College (Humanities)
Courses Taught: 

Undergraduate: Humor in Society (General Education SB); The Folklore of Alcohol; Contemporary Folklore Studies; Critical Folklore Studies; Democracy and Rhetoric; Horror and Public Culture; Humor and Public Culture; Myth, Ritual, and Performance; Rhetoric and Social Theory; Rhetoric, Ethics, and the Good Life

Graduate: Contemporary Rhetorical Theory; Rhetoric and Social Change; Performance and Public Culture; Language as Action and Performance

  • "The Thin Blue Line in a Thick Blue State: A Critical Folklore Study." Co-authored with hari stephen kumar. Accepted, Western Folklore.
  • "Thunder without Rain: Fascist Masculinity in AMC's The Walking Dead." Horror Studies, 7(1), 125-146. 2016.
  • "Returning the Favor: Ludic Space, Comedians, and the Rhetorical Constitution of Society." In Standing Up, Speaking Out: Stand-Up Comedy and the Rhetoric of Social Change, edited by Matthew Meier and Casey Schmitt, 237-247. 2016.
  • "Critical Folklore Studies and the Revaluation of Tradition." In Tradition in the Twenty-First Century, edited by Trevor Blank and Robert Glenn Howard, 49-71. 2013.
  • "Folk Criticism and the Art of Critical Folklore Studies." Journal of American Folklore, 124(494), 251-271. 2011.
  • "Purifying Rhetoric: Empedocles and the Myth of Rhetorical Theory." Quarterly Journal of Speech, 96(3), 231-256. 2010.
  • "Gramsci, Good Sense, and Critical Folklore Studies." Journal of Folklore Research, 47(3), 221-252. 2010.
  • Readings in Rhetoric and Performance. Strata Publications, Inc., 2010. Co-edited with Phaedra C. Pezzullo. Reviewed in Text and Performance Quarterly and Journal of Folklore Research.
  • "Constituting Folklore: A Case for Critical Folklore Studies." Journal of American Folklore, 122(484), 172-196. 2009.
  • "The Myth of Rhetoric: Korax and the Art of Pollution." Rhetoric Society Quarterly, 37(3), 251-273. 2007.
  • "Touring History: Guidebooks and the Commodification of the Salem Witch Trials." Journal of American Culture, 30(3), 271-284. 2007.
  • "Disciplining the Carnivalesque: Chris Farley's Exotic Dance." Communication and Critical Cultural Studies, 3(3), 239-258. 2006.
  • "Seinfeld's Democratic Vistas." Critical Studies in Media Communication, 22(5), 390-408. 2005.
Current Projects: 

My website, The Tales The Tell, focuses on the folklore (especially traditional narratives) of New England.

My new book has been released by Falcon Guides, a premier publisher of outdoor recreation guidebooks. It introduces readers to the folklore of Connecticut and associated hikes. 25% of royalties benefit the Friends of Connecticut State Parks. I am now writing a second book in the series on the folklore and hiking in Massachusetts; 25% of the royalties will be split between the Essex National Heritage Area and the Upper Housatonic Valley National Heritage Area.

I have also written a book for the general public concerning the historical and folkloric eccentrics of New England. It is published by Globe Pequot Press and is now available. It was positively reviewed in Connecticut Magazine. All royalties benefit youth and education programs at the Connecticut River Museum.

I am the Folklore Consultant for the William G. Pomeroy Foundation's Legends and Lore Marker Grant Program.

I appear weekly on iCRV Radio's flagship series Shelter Island on Wednesdays from 10:45-11:30 a.m. to narrate and discuss the folklore of the region.

I am currently working with the Essex Steam Train and Riverboat to develop several programs drawing from the folklore of New England.

From 2014-2019, I served as the resident folklorist for the Connecticut River Museum. I produced two exhibit scripts during that time. The first was The Thirsty River: 400 Years of Drink, Life, and Reform in the Connecticut River Valley.The second was Myths and Legends of the Connecticut River Valley

In relation to this research, I am finishing a book manuscript tentatively entitled The Moodus Noises: A Cultural History of a Connecticut Legend. I also published an article on legends of the river for the magazine Connecticut Explored.

Increasingly, I have become interested in the complicated role alcohol and intoxication plays in human culture and history, especially as it is reflected in and shapes global folklore.

Finally, I am interested in the intersection of the uncanny and the humorous, and the relationship between theories of the uncanny and catharsis, and intermittently pursue projects related to these issues.