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. In academic and public sector work I advocate a critical folklore studies as a means to examine and to redress social injustice. In so doing I draw upon traditions of rhetorical criticism and social theory, especially to critique anti-democratic behavior and to advance democratic modes of living with others.

Working at these intersections, my research focuses on the constitutive nature of expressive culture. I have a longstanding interest in the ways that comedic 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. Much of my current research focuses on the historical and contemporary folklore of New England, including 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: The Folklore of New England (General Education SB); Humor and Comedy in Society (General Education SB); The Folklore of Alcohol (General Education SB); Contemporary Folklore Studies; Critical Folklore Studies; Democracy and Rhetoric; Horror 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

  • "Pseudo-Research: A Query and a Critique." Accepted, Cultural Analysis.
  • "The Field of Spookiness: An Historical Survey." Supernatural Studies, 8(2), 9-42. 2023.
  • "The Devil is in the Cellar: The Genealogy of an American Thanksgiving Narrative." Narrative Culture 10(1), 61-87. 2023.
  • "The Reverend Samuel Peters's Natural History: A Reassessment." Folklore, 133(3), 267-288. 2022.
  • "Lovecraft and the Folklore of Glocester's Dark Swamp." Lovecraft Annual, 16, 90-127. 2022.
  • "Soft Racism in the Contemporary Legend of Anawan Rock: A Critique." Journal of Folklore Research, 59(1), 59-100. 2022.
  • "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 new book has been released by Falcon Guides, a premier publisher of outdoor recreation guidebooks. It introduces readers to the folklore of Massachusetts and associated hikes. 25% of the royalties will benefit the Essex National Heritage Area and the Upper Housatonic Valley National Heritage Area. It is the second in a series. The first book introduces readers to hiking the folkloric sites of Connecticut; 25% of the royalties benefit the Friends of Connecticut State Parks.

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. It was positively reviewed in Connecticut Magazine. All royalties benefit youth and education programs at the Connecticut River Museum.

I appear weekly on iCRV Radio's flagship series Shelter Island to narrate and to discuss the folklore of the region. I co-host another series, Nature Folk: Wildlife or Wild Myth? with Russ Miller, naturalist at the Meigs Point Nature Center. In each episode we explore the intersection between the natural sciences and folklore.

I am the secretary of the Connecticut Eastern Regional Tourism District, an organization established by the legislature to promote tourism in 41 municipalities in the state. I have been a member of the Board of Directors since 2014, representing the cultural heritage industry.

I am always willing to assist non-profits and other organizations dedicated to the public good research their folklore and cultural history. Recently, I have had the honor to work with The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor, the Eightmile River Wild and Scenic Watershed, and the Thompson Historical Society. Please feel welcome to reach out to me with your requests.

In 2021 I was honored to speak at The Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center on the topic of Hepburn's contributions from a folkloristic perspective. The lecture is available at The Kate's museum website.

From 2019-2022, I worked 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.

Currently, I am finishing a book manuscript tentatively entitled The Moodus Noises: A Critical Genealogy of a Connecticut Legend. This research was featured in an episode of Off The Path on WSHU Public Radio. I also published an article on legends of the river for the magazine Connecticut Explored.

I have been interviewed in Connecticut Magazine several times concerning the folklore of New England and was a guest on The Full Story. In November 2022, I published an essay in Connecticut Magazine on the complicated history of place names of Indigenous peoples in the state. I am also working on a book manuscript to introduce readers to the historical and contemporary legends of New England.

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 comedic, and the relationship between theories of the uncanny and catharsis, and intermittently pursue projects related to these issues.