June 4, 2010

Honoring Karen McCarthy Brown

On behalf of the co-editors of FSRInc.org, I am writing to share a request that was forwarded to us regarding Karen McCarthy Brown. Author of Mama Lola, Karen’s work has crossed boundaries in the study of religion, anthropology, and women's studies. Indeed, finding Mama Lola on my book shelves took a moment as I tried to recall into which category the book had landed. I read Mama Lola in the first semester of my doctoral work. Years later, fragments of vibrant images of Vodou rituals and Mama Lola remain as I recall the work. Mama Lola taught me not only a bit about Vodou, but also raised fundamental questions about the study of religion. In the seminar in which I read the book, newly matriculated doctoral candidates debated the question of “insiders and outsiders” in the study of religion. Describing Mama Lola as an “ethnographic spiritual biography”, Karen McCarthy Brown challenged scores of scholars to reconsider the relationship between their work and themselves. (Preface to the 2001 edition)

I trust many of the FSR community have had an opportunity to read Karen McCarthy Brown and Mama Lola. For this reason, we are sharing with you a letter from her husband, Bob, and friends, Gail and Claudine. Please read and consider supporting their request.

Stephanie May
FSRInc.org Co-editor

To Honor the Work of Karen McCarthy Brown
A letter to friends and colleagues

As most of you know, our beloved Karen, inspiring scholar of religion, is suffering from a particularly rare form of dementia. Before the disease dominated her life she was working on getting her path-breaking book, “Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn” translated into French. Karen had identified a remarkable translator in Paris and a distinguished French publishing house to take it on. Now that project is stalled for lack of funding. This is an appeal to a broad community of friends and fans to help raise the funding for this endeavor to honor Karen. It also honors Mama Lola.
The French version of the book has been long in coming but it is more than ever needed as many vicious media attacks on Vodou and Haitian society have taken place after the devastating earthquake of January 12, 2010. In the aftermath of the quake, at a moment when Haitians are seeking sources of support even beyond material relief, some believe that Vodou as national religion and source of humanistic values has much to offer to the project of national reconstruction and reconciliation. Haitian culture is not well understood, so the book is an opportunity to continue to educate and inform. Ultimately, this translation will help restore the Haitian ancestral religion to its proper place and will serve Haiti well at a time of such extraordinary challenge for the country and its people.

With this letter, we invite you to join the group of scholars and friends who believe that it is time to have this important book available in Haiti and in the Francophone world in general. Hopefully this will happen within this coming year. Our goal is to raise the necessary funds to undertake the project by December, 2010. To get there we need your help now.

How you can support this effort: Some of you may wish to contribute direct financial support as a way to honor Karen and Mama Lola and this extraordinary book. You may also have contacts with foundations or sources of grant funding and may know a broader network of friends and colleagues who should be alerted to this effort. Karen herself, her husband, Bob, and friends like us, Gail and Claudine, would so appreciate any thoughts and ideas you may have.

Again, we express our gratitude for your participation in this community effort to honor the work of both Karen McCarthy Brown and Mama Lola and the extraordinary relationship they nurtured in the process of working together for more than 30 years. It is also about continuing Karen’s long legacy of restoring Vodou as a legitimate belief system that offers hope and communal support to its adherents in Haiti and beyond.

We join our voices to thank you for supporting this most cherished dream of Karen; we also thank you on behalf of those who have long awaited the translation of “Mama Lola.” If we can answer any further questions about this project, please feel free to contact any one of us.

With our most sincere appreciation, Bob, Gail and Claudine

Robert Machover
Milford, New Jersey

Claudine Michel
Department of Black Studies
University of California, Santa Barbara

Gail Pellett
Gail Pellett Productions
New York, NY

For more detailed information on the project and how to help support the translation please click on image:

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