Blaine Waide, 33, Florida's new state folklorist, has a background that seems ideal for the job. He went to high school at Little Rock Central in Arkansas and lived in racial hot spots like Oxford and Vicksburg, Miss. He even read Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God as a young man. He comes to the Sunshine State after a stint as managing editor of Sing Out! magazine, which preserves and supports folk music.
You were most recently living and working in Bethlehem, Pa. Does that make you a carpetbagger?
My heart was always in the South. It was an odd transition for me to live in the North that long.
I was thinking about busting your chops about that, but my colleague points out that Al Burt, William Bartram and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings weren't born here either. Where are you from?
My family lived all over the South. Mississippi, Arkansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee.
Did you have many experiences in Florida growing up?
Not really. My parents were never big on going to the beach. I went to soccer camp once in Cocoa Beach. In college, I spent some time in a place I'm starting to think was St. George Island with a girlfriend.
What does the Florida folklorist do?
Administers and runs the Florida Folklife Program. We go out and identify and document the folk cultural heritage of the state, then find ways to present it and preserve it.
What do you imagine this year will look like for you? What will you be doing?
The main thing to do is to get out there and do our annual survey. To identify and document folklife in the state. This year we're doing a survey of the coastal counties in the Panhandle.
You've written about Robert Johnson and the blues. Have you been to the Bradfordville Blues Club yet?
I've been twice. Two Fridays ago I saw a guy named James "Super Chikan" Johnson. He was the second or third blues singer I ever interviewed, in Mississippi when I was 20 years old. It sort of felt like my life had come full circle in some ways.
Did you have preconceived notions about Florida that have changed since you've been here?
I had a certain framework. But there were parts that were unfamiliar to me. For instance, cattle ranching. That was something I wasn't very familiar with and now find intriguing. One part of the state that jumped out at me was Tarpon. I spent a few weeks in Greece. That just seems like it's just a wonderful place.
Have you had time to develop a to-do list? People to meet? Places to eat? That kind of thing?
I've got more people than I think I have time to meet in the Panhandle. I'd love to meet Stetson Kennedy. I'd love to drive through the area around Okeechobee. I'd like to visit Ybor City. St. Augustine. I'm a baseball fan. I'd love to see what the folklife program could do on spring training, that sort of really core Florida family experience.
I'm kind of jealous. Does the governor know you exist?
I met him. He came to the Department of State, the first agency he visited. He seemed quite interested in the Florida Folklife Program.
Answers edited for length and clarity.