Sunday, February 2, 2014

Anansi, Brer Rabbit and the Power of Folktales

This is a wordless picture book I did with
Children's Press.  I told the story, when you
heard the din, you turned the page!

I love telling folktales.  I especially love telling them to adult audiences.  Yesterday, I was in Martinsville, Va and had a rollicking time with an intergenerational audience that was mostly adults.  We spent time with Anansi, and I explained how that splendid spider is linked to Bugs Bunny.  We had fun watching that trickster get his legs caught in a web of his own weaving when he went head to head with a clever turtle.

The Tar Baby
I do so love this stuff!

We remembered that Brer Rabbit is the embodiment of the enslaved Africans in America, and not just a character who makes millions as an advertising icon.  We got to say "How do to ya?" To each other and wail, "Whatever you do, Brer Fox, Please don't thow me in the briar patch!"  We got to watch a huge cloud of hornets go up in the air and come straight back down on poor old Brer Bear and the scheming Brer Fox as Brer Rabbit hollered at them, "I said this was my laughing place, and I shore am laughing hard!"

The Man

The Tiger
The Mouse

There was more than that, of course.  We spoke to each other, learned of our commonality through comments from the audience, shared our foibles, made friends of people we'd never met, and chuckled at the antics of our own and other people's children.  People who'd never experienced storytelling vowed they'd seek it out, and two thirteen year old boys found themselves so caught up in story, they played finger games with everyone else at the end of the show without giving it a second thought.  A pastor waited for me as everyone left, and we had a long discussion about the stories in the Bible and how the words are meant to come off the tongue, not lay on the page.  All in all, it was a glorious event.

The folks who came to share stories with me left with some of my oldest friends.  

Monkeys lions, tigers, bears, fox, rabbit, and spiders who leapt through my childhood, and now inform my adulthood became part of people who had never seen nor heard of them before.  Children were asking for books about Anansi and Brer Rabbit.  Teachers were writing down possible titles for sharing with their classes.  Grandparents were promising to read stories to their grandchildren, parents wanted to find out how they could find more storytelling for their kids, and any number of adults were tickled pink and planned to share those stories with family members who were not on site.

Folktales are powerful for many reasons.  They touch us in the universal places in our soul.  They speak to us about ourselves.  They make us laugh at our own foolishness.  Better still, they are sharable with anyone.  They morph and change and glide in and out of who we are as a society.  

As we enter February, which is also Black History Month, I have weeks, and weeks of telling Afrocentric Folktales with multi-generational audiences ahead of me….I can't wait!

Happy Telling

P.S.  I made the front page at the Martinsville Bulletin on the Monday after the show.  Wouldn't the world be a better place if we had more storyteller's on the front page?


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