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ENCORES: A Conversation with Michael W. Twitty (2019)

Folger Public Programs is pleased to present ENCORES, a weekly online series highlighting past performances and recalling the rich history of programming on the historic Folger stage. As many arts and cultural institutions remain closed during this time, these ENCORES provide a way to connect and revisit the breadth of Folger offerings with a wider audience.


ENCORES presents

A Conversation with Michael W. Twitty
Recorded February 2019
This talk was presented during
First Chefs: Fame and Foodways from Britain to the Americas
an exhibition in association with
Before ‘Farm to Table’: Early Modern Foodways and Cultures
a Mellon initiative in collaborative research at the Folger Institute

Michael W. Twitty is the author of the James Beard award-winning book The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South. He has been featured on NPR, The Washington Post, and TED.  He is the creator of Afroculinaria, the first blog to explore the culinary traditions of Africa and the African diaspora in the United States and around the world.

Listen to the full conversation here.

Read more about akara, including a recipe to make the black-eyed peas fritters at home, on Shakespeare & Beyond.

Twitty participated in a related program, Cooking by the Book: A Conversation with Chefs and Writers, held earlier this year as as part of “Food and the Book,” a virtual conference co-sponsored by the Center for Renaissance Studies at the Newberry Library and Before ‘Farm to Table’: Early Modern Foodways and Cultures, a Mellon Foundation initiative in collaborative research at the Folger Institute at the Folger Shakespeare Library. You can see a full recording of that conversation here.

Read the introduction by Associate Director for Fellowships at the Folger Institute, Amanda Herbert:

Hello and welcome to Folger ENCORES! I’m Amanda Herbert, Associate Director for Fellowships at the Folger Institute.

The Folger has recently launched this new series, ENCORES, that brings plays, music and spoken word from the Folger archives directly to you.

This week, we’re revisiting a conversation from early 2019 with culinary historian, food writer, activist, and living history interpreter Michael W. Twitty, examining the legacy of enslavement on the social, cultural, and emotional worlds of American food in his James Beard Award-winning book The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South.

This event was held alongside our exhibition, First Chefs: Fame and Foodways from Britain to the Americas. And we’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with Michael on many occasions as part of a special project at the Folger, called Before ‘Farm to Table’: Early Modern Foodways and Cultures, a Mellon initiative in collaborative research, run out of the Folger Institute.

The premise of the project is that food, then as now, is a basic human need. It also has a history and is a gateway to understanding different societies and cultures. Over the course of this grant, our team has investigated big questions about the way food participates in and actively shapes human knowledge, ethics, and imagination. These include things like the unevenness of food supply, the development and spread of “tastes,” the recognition of the experiences of enslaved foodworkers, and the socially cohesive rituals of eating together. Our hope has been that a fresh understanding of a pre-industrial food world will give us purchase on the post-industrial assumptions, aspirations, and challenges surrounding modern foodways.

Every time I have the privilege of speaking with Michael, my whole outlook changes. My brain buzzes with possibility, imagining new ways to read, interpret, and understand the rare books and manuscripts held at the Folger. My soul aches, recognizing and remembering the experiences of the enslaved women and men Michael has devoted his life to honoring. And I laugh, belly laugh, SO HARD, because Michael is joyful and fiery and funny and kind, and he reminds us that the true stories of enslaved people do not begin in slavery, nor are they limited to the pain and injustice of bondage, as real as those were. Michael’s ancestors were brave, compassionate, resilient, resourceful, inventive, determined, and filled with love. That’s their history and their legacy. Michael shows us how important it is to see the honest and rich and full humanity of people from the past. If you would like to know more about the Folger Institute, visit folger.edu. We hope you will join us for these weekly episodes of ENCORES, highlighting all that the Folger has to offer. Thank you for tuning in.


Encores LogoCheck back each Friday for a new “from the archives” performance, introduced by some of our favorite artists, showcasing the best of Folger TheatreFolger ConsortO.B. Hardison Poetry, and lectures.

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