English teacher, journalist, writer; student of all forms of African/African American culture; BA degrees in Anthropology and English; MA in Journalism and Communications; has always used storytelling as a parent, writer, and teacher; immediate past BSL President.
I recently completed my doctoral dissertation, entitled African American Storytelling: Collective Memory, Creative Resistance, and Personal Transformation, with members of the Blackstorytelling League of Rochester (BLR) as my primary sources. A part of the process was to write out my own thoughts about storytelling. Here’s a portion of what I wrote:
I joined BLR because of the enthusiasm of the members. It offered a creative outlet that had elements of drama and poetry, but fit better in terms of time. For instance, I could practice on my own time schedule. I could use movement from my dance background.
I remembered telling” made-up” stories to my children, so I had some “experience.” I call myself an African and African American “culturalist.” I have traveled and read widely and liked having an opportunity to share what I have learned.
I started with group stories, at one time a feature of BLR, that brought me into the group, and I liked the sense of camaraderie, the warm welcoming feeling of the group towards each other and I saw this transmitted to the audience.
By profession, I am a high school and college English teacher, and storytelling blends well with teaching; it’s an approach to talking and sharing that seems to especially fit and it’s not just for young children or even children. The teaching is important, but I think one of the most important things is the connection.
That’s what I mean by collective memory. It’s the smiles of recognition about a memory shared. I saw it most in “Front Porch” performance a few years ago, which sprang from group members sitting and talking at a social gathering and we started saying” remember when…” I distinctly remember the nods and smiles from the audience when we did the performance. Creative Resistance—the creative part is clear. The resistance is historically true (Brer Rabbit, codes, “Steal Away,” etc.). Historical stories relate to the theme of resistance, so telling those stories is resistance (the message about the past, applied to the present). Certainly, the stories resist the imagery of the negative stereotypes about African Americans and Eurocentrism. Personal Transformation—I feel it and feel it in the audience. I look at their faces and see them almost in a trance, literally, wide-eyed, intensely listening.
People have asked about the fact that so many members are “elders.” I call myself an “elder in training.” I think maybe we were the ones who sought our roots in the 60s and 70s, and embraced and held on to “Black is Beautiful.” Just some thoughts….
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