The East St. Louis poet and playwright Keith Antar Mason once asserted that “life may have began with the creation of atoms, but cultures are built with the telling of our stories. When I tell your story, I am telling my own.”
Similarly, renowned folklorist Zora Neale Hurston said a man with a story has a million dollars in his pocket.
Those affirmations will be on display this week at the annual National Black Storytelling Festival and Conference in Cary.
The festival kicked off Monday night at The Cary Theater with a free event featuring local storytellers; Willa Brigham and Linda Gorham of Cary, Donna Washington of Durham, and U.S. Storytelling Treasure, Mitch “Gran’Daddy Junebug” Capel of Southern Pines.
The weeklong event promises a gathering of masterful storytellers, musicians, authors and African-culture scholars whose work will be featured in Cary and some other Triangle locations.
The Hillsborough duo Kevin and Tracy Bell will also perform during the festival as “The Two Bells.” Their work features a unique, interactive brand of storytelling from the African and African-American traditions.
Capel, a native of Southern Pines, has been twice featured at The National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tenn. A natural for all the “signifyin’” that takes place at a great many lying contests, Capel will emcee the Jackie Torrence Tall Tale Contests during this week’s festival in Cary.
The North Carolina Association of Black Storytellers is co-hosting the event, and will present African dance, drumming, spoken word performances, and of course storytelling on Wednesday night at N.C. State’s Witherspoon Student Center. The event is free and open to the public.
The main events will be held at the Embassy Suites in Cary, where organizers have set up an “African Marketplace” and resource center that will feature African imports, Afro-centric wearable art and African-American literature and art.
Storytellers from across the country, via the National Adopt-A-Teller program, will also visit more than 40 local schools, libraries, museums, correctional facilities and recreation and senior centers, to share educational and cultural experiences.
“This annual Festival showcases NABS’ vision and creative approach to strengthen our communities through the art of storytelling and collecting, owning and institutionalizing our narratives,” Dr. Caroliese Frink Reed, this year’s festival director, said in a news release. “We stand on the backs and shoulders of those who came before us, and we continue to shine a light for those who will come after us.”
North Carolina’s role in the preservation of stories is prominently featured throughout the festival and conference. This year’s theme is “Our Storytelling Fabric: Weaving Tales From the Dismal Swamp to Moral Monday Marches.”
This festival presenters note that since the first Africans were brought to North Carolina in the 17th century, bound in chains and sold on auction blocks, the state has been a powerful depository for stories preserving the African-American continual flight to freedom.
The festival’s theme highlights the Moral Monday movement that started in 2013 by the Rev. William Barber, a recent MacArthur “genius” grant winner. The movement was a series of weekly protests and rallies at the Republican-controlled N.C. General Assembly.
During the festival, retired North Carolina Central University history professor Freddie Parker will talk about the history of “The Dismal Swamp” near Elizabeth City and Tidewater, Va.
▪ For more information, go to www.nabsinc.org.
▪ Registration for the festival and conference is available at Embassy Suites, 201 Harrison Oaks Blvd., Cary.
▪ For more information contact Caroliese Frink Reed, national festival director, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 215-796-2785.
Editor’s note: Thomasi McDonald is a member of the NC Association of Black Storytellers.