This article expands on Question #15 from the NABS Storytelling Board Game, created by the organizational co-founder, Mama Linda Goss. The answer to that particular question, (“What book is considered the bible of blackstorytelling?”): Talk That Talk: An Anthology of African-American Storytelling edited by Linda Goss and Marian E. Barnes, (Simon & Schuster, 1989). Not only is Talk That Talk a collection of stories, tales, sermons, poetry and rhymes as told by African Americans, but the work defines the concept of “Blackstorytelling”*, placing it in an historical context. The commentaries following each section support the concept that “blackstorytelling” does not exist in a vacuum, but is part of our cultural collective experience. Mama Linda acknowledges that Talk That Talk was influenced by four previous publications: Book of Negro Folklore by Langston Hughes and Arna Bontemps, Mules and Men by Zora Neale Hurston, Black Fire by Amiri Baraka and The New Negro by Alain Locke.
In looking for stories in the pre-Google Internet search days, many storytellers consulted the reference books: A to Zoo: Subject Access to Children’s Picture Books by Carolyn and John Lima (numerous editions) and The Storyteller’s Sourcebook by Margaret Read MacDonald (1st and 2nd editions). While both of the books were very resourceful, they were limited in their listings of African and African American stories. Thus, African American storytellers began to consult and collect works by many of these authors: Harold Courlander (A Treasury of Afro-American Folklore; A Treasury of African Folklore; Fire on the Mountain; Cow-tail Switch); Augusta Baker and Ellin Greene (Storytelling: Art and Technique); Virginia Hamilton (A Ring of Tricksters; When Birds Could Sing; Herstories; The People Could Fly; Many Thousand Gone); Zora Neale Hurston (Mules and Men; Go Gator and Muddy the Water; Every Tongue Got to Confess); Roger D. Abrahams (Afro-American Folktales, African Folktales); Daryl Cumber Dance (Shucking and Jiving: Folklore from Contemporary Black Americans; Honey Hush: An Anthology of Black Women’s Humor; From My People: 400 Years of African American Folklore); Julius Lester (This Strange New Feeling; To Be A Slave; Long Journey Home; Black Folktales; Tales of Uncle Remus; Knee-High Man); William J. Faulkner (The Days When the Animals Talked); Bessie Jones and Bess Lomax Hawes (Step it Down: Plays, Songs and Stories from the Afro-American Heritage); Jackie Torrence (Jackie Tales); Nelson Mandela (Nelson Mandela’s Favorite African Folktales); Ashley Bryan (Beat the Story Drum, Pum-Pum; Lion and the Ostrich Chicks; Ox of the Wonderful Horns and other African Folktales).
We cannot overlook the contributions made by NABS, Inc. and its members to the literature of storytelling. In 1995 Linda Goss and Clay Goss edited Jump Up and Say! A Collection of Black Storytelling, and in 2006 Sayin’ Somethin’: Stories from the National Association of Black Storytellers edited by Linda Goss, DylanPritchett and Caroliese Frink Reed, was published by the Association. Our roster of members who publish and promote “blackstorytelling” include Karima Amin, Baba Jamal Koram, Rex Ellis, Linda Goss, Eleanora Tate, Larry Coleman, Mary Carter Smith, Rita Cox, Jackie Torrence, Len Cabral, Bobby Norfolk, David Anderson, Lyn Ford, Diane Williams, Willa Brigham, Linda Cousins-Newton, Gladys Marie-Fry, Temujin, Janice Curtis Greene, Mitch Capel, Charlotte Blake-Alston, Dylan Pritchett , Alice McGill, Brother Blue, Paul Keens-Douglas and many others. NABS, the authentic voice of “blackstorytelling” , continues to raise the bar in “spreading the word” through print and media sources.
My experience as a librarian and commitment to storytelling led me to establish The Storytelling Resource Center as part of Zawadi Books, 2460 Main Street, Buffalo, NY. This Center holds approximately 1,200 books by and about storytelling and storytellers including history and techniques. Many of the books referred to in this article are from that collection. My mission is to support local storytellers as they define and refine the art of storytelling by giving access to resources. Talk That Talk, the bible of Black Storytelling, is a step on that journey.
* “Blackstorytelling” has been written as one word in some of NABS historical archives and more recently by elder storyteller, Dr. David “Sankofa” Anderson to show that this is one entity. According to NABS member, Caroliese Frink Reed: “The distinction between Blackstorytelling (in America) and other storytelling traditions, is that it was and is continually being forged, honed and shaped by the conditions that brought it forth.” (from “The African Oral Traditions” by Caroliese Frink Reed in SAYIN’ SOMETHIN’ , edited by Linda Goss, Dylan Pritchett and Caroliese Frink Reed, NABS, 2006)
–Sharon Jordan Holley
Sharon Jordan Holley is a retired librarian and storyteller living in Buffalo, NY. She is a co-founder of Tradition Keepers: Black Storytellers of Western New York and a lifetime member of NABS. She is also a recipient of the Zora Neale Hurston Award.
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