Adinkra symbol from Lyn Ford  “He who does not know can know from learning”

The subject line for an email sent to Storytell listserve read, “Borrowing or stealing?”

Storyteller Meg Gilman wrote that her workshop had been “borrowed” by someone else without her knowledge or permission:

“It’s nice that folks recognize a good thing when they experience it and I appreciate that, but it’s crappy for me when I see my workshop being presented at a conference by someone else…  It breaks my heart, frankly… My workshops offer information for people to ‘use in their work’, [not to be] recycled with someone else’s name on them… One reaction I had to this last situation is whether I will be able to present my original workshop again, without appearing to have copied the ‘copier’.”

Such “borrowing” has happened to other hard-working tellers, including me.  Most story-sharers ask for my permissions (and receive them, with info on how to credit, or suggestions for researching/creating variations, and my blessing either way).  But I’ve heard a few of my versions of stories, (and my family’s), memorized by someone else and told onstage without acknowledgement, as well as included without permission in some workshop material. Without a lot of noise or animosity, I let others know whose hard work was really being shared.

A teller who aspires to be professional should honor the familial story experience or creative property, research, preparation, recording and/or writing and submission for publication of the source. Otherwise, that teller doesn’t deserve the honor of the story, for that teller has no claim to the process.

For works of orature, the concern is a moral issue more than a copyright infringement.  In every storyteller’s work–spoken or printed or otherwise recorded, danced, drummed, or preserved in any way–is a part of that artist’s soul.  You can’t “borrow” a storyteller’s soul.

Storyteller and humanitarian Laura Simms responded on Storytell, “For those of us who have devoted our lives to this work with original thinking, regard for cultures, and very dedicated work on stories and workshops, it is disheartening to have work outrightly stolen, and misused, etc. in the name of storytelling.  There is no other art form that is as relational and profoundly effective because of the presence of a living artist.”

Before you tell anyone else’s story, consider:  Is it yours to tell, or have you simply and strongly connected with it?  Is it from your personal, cultural knowledge base, or would your telling be considered secondhand hearsay—someone else’s story?  If you “must” tell it, will you speak with its source, and ask where it originated (it might be an original piece that sounds like a folktale; it might be from a literary source, which means telling it might be a copyright infringement)?  Then ask your source, “If I credit your work, may I tell your story”?  If the answer is no, accept that and do your own work.

Before you use anyone else’s workshop materials, there is only one question to ask the author of the work:  Do I have your permission to quote from your work?  There is no other question; the use of anyone’s recorded material (CD, DVD, printed, even when it has no copyright symbol) is illegal.  Period.  No, exclamation point!

If you’re aware of someone stealing your intellectual work, tell them and others. Claiming and reclaiming your work (and protecting what you must from your created orature and original, researched literature through copyright) is what should be done.

  • Lyn Ford

Lyn Ford--May 2015Lynette (Lyn) Ford is a fourth-generation Affrilachian storyteller and teaching artist for the Ohio Alliance for Arts Education and the Ohio State-Based Collaborative Initiative of the Kennedy Center, and a member of NABS’ Circle of Elders.  Lyn is also an author, mentor for young writers for the Thurber House, great-grandmother, and proud member of the Cleveland Association of Black Storytellers (CABS). (Lyn’s highly-acclaimed work, Affrilachian Tales:  Folktales from the African-American Appalachian Tradition, was reviewed in the Fall 2014 issue of Spread The Word, the NABS print newsletter.)

To join Storytell, “a worldwide online community” listserve supported by the National Storytelling Network, go to

Adinkra symbol (depicted with beginning quote):  NEA ONNIM NO SUA A, OHU whose source is   Cloth As Metaphor by G.F. Kojo Arthur

A glimpse of the dilemma for spoken word artists and creative copyrights—Chapter 8, “Categories of Copyright Work” can be read, in Intellectual Property Law by Helen Norman.  Oxford University Press, 2nd Edition, 2014.

The Black Storytellers APP: The Cowtail Switch – A symbol of Authority, Prestige and Prominence


African American Storytellers are most familiar with the cowtail switch through a story that has been declared a requirement in a Black Storyteller’s repertoire. “The Cow-tail Switch,” as collected from West Africa by Harold Courlander, is a tale in which we learn that as long as we call out the names and tell the stories of our ancestors, we keep them alive. In the story, the child who earns the cow-tail switch is the one who inquires as to the whereabouts of his father after a long absence, as opposed to the other children who apply their talents to aid in the father’s return after he was found.

The story brings to light ancient symbolism of the cow-tail switch, sometimes referred to as the fly whisk. Its significance has been deemed both authoritarian and spiritual. A King’s whisk upon the shoulder could mean a change of circumstance, and the Yoruba Orisha, Oya’s irukere (cowtail switch) is known to cause wide spread transformation through her forceful winds. Centuries old and laden with stories, the importance of the cowtail switch is legendary until this day.

Many African presidents and tribal chiefs carry a fly-whisk as a badge of authority to processes with his switch at traditional ceremonies. This past December,”Who will Inherit Kajwang’s Fly-whisk,” was a newspaper headliner. The winner of the Kenyan political campaign was marked by his ability to work his fly-whisk:

It was Raila’s turn next. Waving a black fly-whisk, he knew how to work the crowd. He demanded obedience and acceptance of his newly appointed ODM officials, those previously labeled Jubilee moles and rebels who were excelling in singing “Raila for president”.

In total control, waving the black fly-whisk and singing “Mapambano”, Raila was the inheritor of Kajwang’s mantle. – Business Daily, December 8, 2014.

nana opoku collageWhen visiting Ghana last May, I had the honor of interviewing, Nana Opoku one of the Asantehene of Kumasi’s protectors and orators. To the left you see Nana rendering all the names and attributes of the King while the Asantehene, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, stands before him holding his symbol of authority – the white-tailed cowtail switch. To the right is a photo of Nana during our interview.

Here in America, it is the National Association of Black Storytellers, Inc. (NABS) that carries on the empowering tradition. We continue, perpetuate and promote “In the Tradition…” the customs and rituals of the National Association of Black Storytellers, Inc. which are rooted in our African Heritage.

Mother Mary Carter Smith, the co-Founder of NABS brought the cowtail switch to the NABS. During the 1980’s she used the cowtail switch as she told the Cow-tail Switch story.   In 1992, the cowtail switch was ceremoniously bestowed upon the third president of NABS, Baba Jamal Koram during the 10th Anniversary of the Annual National Black Storytelling Festival in Baltimore, MD. Since then, it has been known as the “Passing of the Cowtail Switch Ceremony.” However, the cowtail switches were either borrowed or belonged to that President.

Part of my quest while traveling in Ghana was to bring back a cowtail switch that would be the permanent property of NABS. But first, it had to be regaled to reflect its authority, prestige and prominence. The journey began in Accra where the switch was purchased. A few days later, I traveled to the historical bead market of Koforidua, where Yoseda Hasan helped me search for brass beads to symbolize our co-founders – The Sankofa (Mother Mary Carter Smith) and the Asante Stool (Linda Goss, NABS 1st President). Understanding the royal nature of the switch, Yoseda extended its handle. Upon my return to the states, the switch was shipped to Pittsburgh, PA where Temujin Ekunfeo masterfully beaded the switch using red, black and green glass beads to represent the national collective consciousness of our people and cowry shells to exemplify wealth. Butterflies were added in memory of Brother Blue (Hugh Morgan) and to symbolize the transition between presidents. The esteemed switch received its distinguished finishing touches from Nashid Ali of Philadelphia, PA, who jeweled NABS brass acronym and logo.

The NABS Pnabscowtailswitchresidential Cowtail Switch is one-of-a-kind and considered high ceremonial regalia. It will be exhibited and stored at the National Great Black and Wax Museum in Baltimore, MD. Illustrious yet functional, the President will carry the switch during special occasions, for it symbolizes:

Honor: Honoring the incoming President and giving him/her the authority to preside over of the NABS’ Board, and to represent the organization, as witnessed and recognized by the membership of NABS.

Respect: Honoring the collective works and continuing efforts of the NABS association family, including contributions by the elders and ancestors.

Wisdom: Using African/Universal wisdom to guide and uplift our youth. “To know is good. To learn is better. To teach and share is best of all.”

Remembrance: Remembering our ancestors: “The ancestors are alive as long as we remember to tell their stories.

It is a great honor to be the bearer of the National Association of Black Storytellers’ Presidential Cowtail Switch.


queenheadinwhiteKaren “Queen Nur” Abdul-Malik is the 14th President of the National Association of Black Storytellers, Inc. and a lauded National Storyteller, Teacher Artist and Cultural Worker with a Masters in Arts in Cultural Sustainability from Goucher College. She is the winner of MidAtlantic Artists-As-Catalyst Awards, NSN Brimstone Grant, and featured in the book Legendary Locals of Willingboro.   She is the founder and executive director of In FACT, Inc. , a cultural sustainability organization.

Resources: Cowtail Switch and Other Stories by Harold Courlander; Business Daily; Smithsonian Institute Collections; Look for Me In the World Wind by Makeda Kemit; The Yoruba Religious Concepts.

Living the Kwanzaa Principles Year-Round

 Kwanzaa kinara--Virgin Islands

Imani (Faith): To believe with all our hearts in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

Black people have always leaned on their faith when faced with the horrific conditions of enslavement, Jim Crow, and the Red Summer of 1919.  The Red Summer took place when Black soldiers returned home from their tour of duty after World War I.   It was very ironic that Black soldiers fought and died for a country that denied them basic human rights. Many times they were subjected to segregated and inhumane conditions while serving in the United States military.

After their exposure to other cultures in the world and experiencing the horrors of war, Black soldiers returned home as different people. They wanted equal treatment under the law and the same rights as all other Americans.  Many Black soldiers were lynched. Sometimes these lynchings were even committed while they were still wearing their uniforms. Racist White people wanted to protect the idea of “white privilege”. Whites killed so many black soldiers upon their return home that it was called the “Red Summer”.

Our faith gave us courage and hope that things would get better over time. The Civil Rights Movement, as well as many of our schools and colleges were all birthed in the Black church. We are now standing on the faith of our ancestors who fought for us to have a better life. Because of that faith, President Barack Obama is the first African-American President of the United States. He now resides in the White House which our enslaved ancestors helped to build. Now that’s faith!

Kuumba (Creativity): To always do as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.

I was asked by the Sunday School Superintendent of my church to develop and chair a Black history program for the students. Having always been involved with the arts, I was happy to be asked to create the program. I developed the program with two purposes in mind: 1. To share African American history through stories, poems and songs and 2. To help build the self-esteem of the children.

One of the parents shared with me that her son was mentally challenged and would not be able to participate on the program. Sharing. with the mother that I would work with each child individually, I told her I would not remove him from the program because I knew he could do it. She said that she would also work with him at home. As we prepared for the program, I treated him just like the rest of the children. Well the day arrived and all of the children’s presentations were wonderful. The children took to the stage to share their poems or songs. The concerned mother’s son recited his poem from memory. She was so proud and thanked me for keeping him in the program.

Over the years other parents have shared concerns about their children’s abilities. My philosophy is always the same. I don’t focus on what they can’t do. I know I will find some way to help the children to accomplish their goals. I thank God for giving me the opportunity to witness the children’s self-esteem spread wings and take flight. I have watched them soar like eagles into adulthood. Creativity is wonderful!

Kay L. Merrill

Kay L. Merrill


Kay L. Merrill is a member of the Griot’s Circle of Maryland, the National Association of Black Storytellers, the Arena Players , NAACP and the National Action Network  Ms. Merrill is a former member of the NABS Board of Directors, having recently served as the board’s secretary. She is also an actress, writer, activist and storyteller. The Official Griot for the Baltimore City Branch of the NAACP,  Kay L. Merrill was named as  Baltimore’s own Madame C. J. Walker and has been a regular guest storyteller on the  Larry Young  Radio Show and  the Anthony McCarthy Radio Show.


TALK THAT TALK – The Bible of Black Storytelling

This article expandTalk That Talks 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

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.

Photo Credit: Powellful Creations

Rally for Stevie Wonder


The Story Board Game Blog Series Entry II

We are proud to present our second blog in this series and the first by one of our NABS Historians, Sister Gloria Black of Buffalo, NY.   Sister Black’s blog will take many of us down a beautiful memory lane. Take a moment to read and send Sister Black a reply.

Rally for Stevie Wonder  by Gloria Black

In 2012 while surfing the web in pursuit of where do I go from here, after self-publication of two family books,  Seek and Ye Shall Find and Operation Save a Generation, I found the National Association of Black Storytellers’ website.  I joined online. More seeking led me to the Tradition Keepers: Black Storytellers of Western New York of which I became a member.

Illness and winter nights kept me from being involved the way I wanted to be;  yet I didn’t give up.  God’s time is the only way for me to go with a smile!  I can’t thank Mama Linda enough for the board game.  “I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind, but now I see.”  When  NABS reminded me that we don’t just tell the story, we live the story, I got the Holy Spirit and flashbacks of yesteryears.

For my personal assignment, I chose question ten of the board game, which asks:  HOW MANY CIVIL RIGHTS/HUMAN RIGHTS DEMONSTRATIONS, SIT-INS, PROTESTS, MARCHES, RALLIES, ETC. HAVE YOU PARTICIPATED IN?  NAME THEM.

Stevie Wonder for BlogDSC02011

There were two rallies and many protests.  My first rally took place in the 1980’s.  I attended a concert given by the great musician, Stevie Wonder.  Needless to say, the concert was sold out.  Stevie of course rocked the house with his performance, but when he did his new single, “Happy Birthday”, he brought down the house.  We all were in the groove with his lyrics and his music.  The emcee asked everyone to stand and join in.  That’s when the spirit became intense.  The audience began to shout that we wanted a holiday passed by Congress to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  When the lights were turned on, I saw that I wasn’t the only one with a tear-soaked face.  We were told that petitions were at the concert as well as in circulation around the world and that each one of us could sign our names before we left the building.

Stevie Wonder popularized the campaign in 1980 and hosted the Rally for Peace press conference in 1981. Six million signatures were collected for petitions to Congress to pass the law making Dr. King’s birthday an official holiday.  According to Paul Andrews (1985) of The Seattle Times, this petition was the largest petition drive in favor of an issue in U.S. history.

Finally, at the White House Rose Garden on November 2, 1983, President Ronald Reagan, signed a bill proposed by Representative Katie Hall of Indiana, creating a Federal holiday to honor Dr. King.   This long-awaited tribute was observed for the first time on January 20th, 1986.

A statement by Dr. Carter G. Woodson in his book, The Mis-Education of the Negro, sums up in part the NABS philosophy:    “The Negro can be made proud of his past only by approaching  it scientifically themselves, and giving their own story to the world” (p. 124)

Andrews, P. (1985, January). Making the calendar. The Seattle Times. Retrieved from

Black, G. (2010). Operation save a generation. Cedar Rapids: Eagle Book Bindery.

Black, G. (2010). Seek and ye shall find. Cedar Rapids: Eagle Book Bindery.

Woodson, C. G. (1933). The Mis-Education of the Negro. Kindle Version.

Photo Credit:

Stevie Wonder – Thomas Hawk – Flickr Photos

Wax Statue of Dr. Martin L. King, Jr.  from The National Great Blacks in Wax  Museum , Baltimore, MD.

(NABS Festival and Conference Tour, 2013) – Linda Cousins-Newton, Photographer.



If you are interested in submitting a blog for publication, please contact Caroliese Frink Reed, NABS Education Chair, at  or Sister Linda Cousins-Newton, Blog Administrator, at

We Don’t Just Tell the Story–We WEAR the Story!


(There was no room in this collage to give a description of the bottom photos.  At left is the Seminole patchwork jacket adorned with mudcloth from Ghana, mudcloth cap, and accompanied by a Seminole patchwork vest and  mudcloth and liberation earrings (Shaz Gallery of Brooklyn jewelry designs).  Perfect for packing to wear at my NABS workshop on African-Amerindian Connections.  (At right, one of those NABS Vendors’ Marketplace finds I couldn’t resist–a mudcloth “mosaic” coat that is still stopping traffic (sidewalk traffic at least) whenever I wear it with that sassy matching hat, pants, and bag).  Didn’t have an inch of room in my luggage to pack it after NABS 2012, so I wore it home–and have been joyfully wearing it ever since.)
Among the myriad cultural delights of the annual NABS Festivals are beholding the warm-spirited multi-talented griots as they resplendently bring the ancestral Village to the varied national venues of the festival, telling the age-old story in word, song, dance, and most definitely in artistic attire.  One can dress casually and comfortably at NABS and feel right at home; then one can also “fall out sharp”, as the Tennessee elders would say, in Africancentric attire, turning heads and lifting minds wherever one steps through not only telling the story but wearing the story.
A special part of the exciting itinerary at the Festival are visits to the Vendors’ Marketplace where one can find all manner of eye-catching, reasonably-priced outfits, jewelry, and home decor for the outer self as well as books, music, and spoken Word items to usher the mind and soul to new levels of knowledge, wisdom, and relaxed enjoyment.  NABS attendees are passionate about supporting the businesses of our people, so not only do many return home with luggage bulging with new outfits, literature, and music, but to encourage further support and appreciation of the global vendors and their unique offerings, the Vendors’ Marketplace is also set aside as a site for “Village Storytelling” and/or welcoming first-time attendees of the festival.
Attending NABS provides a treasure chest of enduring cultural memories and to top it off, if one is so inclined, a closet full of wearable art to grace one’s being until one can return to share, shop, listen, learn, and be both elevated and motivated at the next unforgettable NABS  Festival venue.

Top left, Former Festival Director Br. Akbar Imhotep of Atlanta, a proud African storyteller shining forth like the sun in rich gold–a perfect place to stand in front of the colorful quilt of beautifully attired queen sisters;  bottom left, Baba Jamal  Koram (left) of North Carolina and Oba William King (right) of Chicago, master drummers and griots, who dress the story as skillfully as they drum, sing, and share the Word.)  Check out the unique, patchwork vest of Brother Dylan Pritchett (right) of Virginia another former NABS Festival Director.  As he accepts the award for his dedicated service, he’s accompanied by a Br. Dylan doll which just has to be a fabulous  Kooki Davis creation.  The l’il brother has evidently had a busy day catching all of the NABS sights and sounds.  He had to kick off those shoes and give his feet a break!  )

NABS is replete with Africancentric scholars, researchers, artists and performers covering the waterfront of griot contributions.  When we gather, as mentioned in this post, one will find a diverse range of beautiful ancestral garments including geles and ensembles made from the cloth purchased or imported from the Continent.  Here are a couple of titles of possible interest in regard to this attire displayed in our “wearing the story”:

HEADWRAPS – A Global Journey – Georgia Scott.  Public Affairs, NY. 2003.

INDIGO – In Search of the Color That Seduced the World – Catherine E. McKinley.  Bloomsbury USA, NY, 2011.

—Linda Cousins-Newton
Brooklyn, NY
copyright (c) Ancestral ProMotions 2014

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.