A Word About Storytelling in General and Blackstorytelling in Particular

Caroliese Frink Reed, Ph.D. Candidate, Temple University


I stand myself and my art squarely on the self-defining ground
of the slave quarters, and find the ground to be hallowed
and made fertile by the blood and bones of the men and women
who can be described as warriors on the cultural battlefield
that affirmed their self-worth. As there is no idea that cannot be
affirmed by black life, these men and women found themselves to be
sufficient and secure in their art and their instructions.

                                                                                                                                                                                                           —-August Wilson (1996)

Storytelling is an oral tradition. It allows us to convey through words the events and experiences of our lives and the lived experiences of others. Practitioners of this ancient tradition are deemed storytellers.

A good story should have a story arc-a beginning, middle and end. The beginning should allow the listener to enter the story safely, but expectant of events to come. The tone of the story-joyful, romantic, humorous, heroic, optimistic-should be set or attained in the beginning. This also can be accomplished with the tone and timbre of your voice.

The middle should present conflict or the problem to be resolved. This will build a delightful tension for your listeners that will hold them spell-bound or have their eyes wide or holding their breath. When the story is concluded, listeners will recall this emotion and characterize your story as “good” or “not so good”. This is the turning point, often called the climax of the story.

The ending or conclusion should resolve the problem or conflict. It brings harmony and balance and restores stasis to the world that you have introduced to the listener. The audience should have received a message from the story and should be satisfied, if not happy. But we know all stories do not have a happy ending. Blackstorytelling concerns itself with the historical events, social issues and cultural manifestations of African-American people.

Brother David Anderson/Sankofa of Rochester, New York tells us that “Blackstorytelling includes the body of traditional stories and new stories that inform and promote the humanity of African American people” (Anderson 31).

In performance mode, African-American Storytellers should concern themselves with certain aesthetic principles of Blackstorytelling – rhythm, rhyme, repetition and call and response. These aesthetic principles are demonstrated in other forms of African American expressive art, e.g. dance, music, spoken word and a good Sunday morning sermon.

African American storytellers should present imagery that is veracious and consistent with the values, mores and mythoforms of African American culture.

The language of Blackstorytelling is always creative, innovative, inventive, sometimes containing words or phrases unique to the culture or imbued with special meaning or emotion for that community.

Blackstorytelling is an organic force that is alive and well and fruitful. The more you give to Blackstorytelling, the more you will receive.


Anderson, David. “A Sacred Trust.” Storytelling Magazine:The Empowering Practice of Blackstorytelling 19:5 Sept/Oct 2007: 31

Wilson, August. “The Ground on Which I Stand.” Keynote address, eleventh Biennial Theatre Communications Group National Conference, Princeton University, 1996.