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.

10 comments on “A Word About Storytelling in General and Blackstorytelling in Particular

  1. Looking for forward to Dr. David Anderson’s workshop “Blackstorytelling – What is it?” at the NABS Festival and Conference in Hampton VA – Wednesday, Nov 6 – 10:30 a.m.

    • Lord, Honey,you mean I got to show up. I ‘clare, these days can’t do nothin; with these younguns. How old you say you is?

      And that’s the way it was/is back in the day; and that’s the way we got to make it so again, and again, ’cause we be Blackstorytelling people, which is to be human’ always , and if are true the spirit of Mama Mary and Brother Blue and Sister Opalanga, and all them NABS spiritual beings be watchin’ us, we will pass it on.

      Sankofa (aka,, David Anderson)

  2. Oni Lasana says:

    Blackstorytelling is one word that describes who we are, how we live, how we love, how we forgive, how we celebrate, how we communicate, how we cook, how we eat, how we be a beautiful people in love with our bad selves and in love with mankind…so “if your a storyteller & ya know it…clap yo’ hands!!! (sing out to “if your happy & ya know it”….stomp yo’ feet!
    Looking forward…
    Oni Luv*!*

  3. That’s What I’m Talkin’ ’bout. See What I’m Sayin! Yes, Yeabo! Ase!!!

  4. Wasn’t able to attend Sankofa’s workshop and I pray that what I do daily or ‘almost’ daily; sometimes weekly is and remains Blackstorytelling. What do you call it when your audiences are 80-90 percent non-Black and people who are 100% Black (maybe an overstatement) want you to get beyond Blackness.

    I do what I do to the best of my theatrically trained abilities; always trying to connect and be relevant b
    but I’m not sure sure it’s always Blackstorytelling.

  5. Gloria Black says:

    My name is MaMa GetBetter, that’s what I been trying to do all my life. I read all the time about folks doing the same as me. I’m so proud to have learned or read about the get betters who have earned their names in bright lights. I love to talk about these folk. I wrote about some .now I would love to spread the word through storytelling.I’m a new member, who needs a change to spread my wings.getbetter@verizon.net

  6. Blackstorytelling is an experience that you remember from your folks or what you have read down through the years. Its about Our Ancestors..their struggles and success. Its all about what Mama, Papa, Grandma and Grandpa remembered and passed on down. It not about correct grammar…its a good feeling within of knowing who you are and who kept you deeply rooted in good soil. Its not about the letters behind your name or where you live now. Its about reaching down to pick another brother or sister up when they have fallen and to help them to remember our stories and how our ancestors had to standing up by sitting down for what they believed. Black Storytelling is in your head from good memories, its in your stomach from good food, its in your feet and hands from good music from drumming, its in your voice from the sweet negro spirituals, its in your eyes from crying, its in your hears from hearing harsh words from others about us, its in our mouth from bitter situations, its in our hair because we are strong, and its in our hearts…our folks taught us how to love. all of this is the joy of BlackStorytelling. WE GOTTA TELL OUR STORIES SO OTHERS WILL REMEMBER NOT TO FORGET.

  7. “Blackstorytelling.” Citing, referring to, being bad as we want to be about it; within and inside it, and even now adorning the word with italics and boldface type, is congruent withal the-ther seven principles them young people put together back in the “sixties.’ More than that, it is the best of what was passed on to you, me and all them sweet to core black Black people that told, you showed you, demanded of you—”you ain’t no nigger! You’s a child a God. And God say, you got to claim yourself, else nobody else respect you.

    Every expression of humanness emanating from the experiences of the 400,000-plus kidnapped people that came off them boats along the Atlantic seaboard (including New Amsterdam/New YorkCity) was dedicated to perpetuating their humanity. We—you, me; the brother and sister in the pulpit; them that’s handing out the free lunch and serving the subsidized breakfast; and that long-legged gal listening to Slick Willie hoping to git over; all them blue-black, fine brown, mellow yellow people are obligated to learn THE story. They can rap it, preach it, sing it, text it, dance it, whatever. But, it is us NABS folk, and our cousins here and there, that are obliged to shape whatever folktale, parable, riddle, sermon, memoir, futuristic publication we offer, that we be about humanity.

    I am old, so I take advantage of peoples’ forbearance and kindness. Thank you.

    Sankofa (Mae Alice’s baby boy she had with W.D.A)

    • Gloria Black says:

      Thank you so much, Mr. Anderson, i enjoy learning about this and that, yet it overwells me to learn something that I should have learned years ago. We it seems have been short stopped,, ,in so many ways, but I know the best is yet to come with the sharing of information, in story form or song or games, like the board game, and NABS such as yourself, I’m getting older too, that’s why we need one another even more!

  8. Thank you, dear Sister Gloria, for the compliment, more so for expressing the belief that “the best is yet to come.” That calls for me, and a whole lot more of us brothers to pull up our britches, and put the energy saved by that gesture, into walkin’ and talkin’, and joining sweet sisters like you in Keeping it real:

    “Long before the beginning of anything here, there was only sky just sky. Now in the sky were many beings,,and they were blacken beautiful. Of course they didn’t have to be concerned about that, but they though it was worth spreading around the world that the Almighty was fix in’ to create, and . . . . . . .”

    Now, it’s on you (and me) to pass it on.

    Sankofa/David anderson

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