Sun | Jan 20, 2019

Jamaican Storytelling Festival pulls int'l acts

Published:Monday | November 17, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Storytelling coordinators Courtney Henriques (left) and Kenny Salmon share a light moment.
Governor General Sir Patrick Allen hands the Storytelling Day proclamation to Kai-Antoinette Thompson. - Photos by Michael Reckord
Storytelling festival coordinator Amina Blackwood-Meeks at the King's House launch recently.

Michael Reckord, Gleaner Writer

The third Ananse SoundSplash Storytelling Festival and Conference is scheduled for November 19-24. Designed to have eight 'legs', like a spider, the festival will have functions spread around the island.

An auspicious prelude to the event took place at King's House on Tuesday, November 11, when Governor General Sir Patrick Allen declared November 20 as National Storytelling Day, in perpetuity. He ceremonially handed the framed proclamation to Wolmer's High School for Girls' first-former, Kai-Antoinette Thompson.

"Jamaicans, the youth in particular, should be provided with factual information about our oral traditions as an important aspect of our cultural diversity, its sources, its values, and its capacity for advancing personal growth," Sir Patrick Allen said.

Among those attending the launch was well-known storyteller Amina Blackwood-Meeks, director of culture in the Ministry of Education, and founder and artistic director of Ntukuma, The Storytelling Foundation of Jamaica, which manages the annual storytelling festival and conference. There were also representatives of the island's community colleges, which have a major role in hosting segments of the festival in various parishes. Each college will determine how to engage their own students or high-school students in their parishes during the festival, but its theme, 'Rediscover, Retell, Renew: Storytelling Throughout The Ages', has been given out to children and teens to use as essays topics.


At a recent planning meeting, Mrs Blackwood-Meeks said that the annual festival was intended "to focus attention on the unique value of Jamaica's rich oral tradition and its potential for enhancing national development. A critical objective is the placement of storytelling as a core subject in the CSEC/CAPE exams and the deliberate use of the art form as strategy for curriculum delivery in schools."

Numerous internationally known storytellers will be attending the festival, delivering papers and telling stories. From Africa will come Kenyan actor-director Mshai Mwangola and South African university lecturer Nomsa Mdlalose. The USA storytellers will be Baba the Storyteller, Diane Ferlatte, Denise Valentine and the husband and wife team - Barry Marshall and Jeri Burns. Coming from the United Kingdom are Jan Blake and Mary Nelson. From the Caribbean region comes Eintou Springer of Trinidad and Tobago, and Costa Rican Edgar Ortiz Salgado.

Baba the Storyteller has been a professional speaker since 1994 and is one of the few recognised America-born practitioners of the ancient West African storytelling craft known as jaliyaa. He has received numerous awards for his work as a folklorist, traditional harpist, storyteller, community activist and volunteer. He has been a consultant, performer, and lecturer for schools, universities, museums, libraries and varied institutions including Walt Disney, United States Customs and Border Patrol, University of Warsaw in Poland, and the Children's Hospital of Orange County.


Blake was born in Manchester, England, to Jamaican parents. One of Britain's leading storytellers, she has performed and led workshops and master classes worldwide for more than 25 years. She specialises in stories from Africa, the Caribbean and Arabia and has a reputation for dynamic storytelling. She performs and teaches a range of students, from children's productions at the Royal Shakespeare Company, to master classes on the educational use of story, with the British Council, to storytelling about sustainability for business leaders with the World Wildlife Fund.

Ferlatte, who grew up in New Orleans and Oakland, California, started on her path to becoming a professional storyteller some 25 years ago. She has received numerous honours, including grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Storytelling Network's Circle of Excellence Award, the National Association of Black Storytellers' Zora Neale Hurston Award, as well as the California Arts Council's highest ranking. She also received a 2008 Grammy nomination, and her recordings have received other awards, including multiple Parents' Choice, American Library Association, National Parenting Publications, iParenting Media, Children's Music Web, and Storytelling World Awards. She performed for President Clinton at his first inauguration.

Springer has told stories in the USA, the UK and throughout the Caribbean, including her native Trinidad and Tobago. She is also author of a text on storytelling in the Caribbean. She is a published playwright, poet and actress and was Poet Laureate of Trinidad and Tobago from 2002 - 2009. She has developed, as part of her family company, IDAKEDA, programmes using storytelling aimed at impacting negative behaviours in at-risk communities in Trinidad and Tobago. She has published four collections of adult poetry and two collections of poetry and stories for children. She hosted two weeks of storytelling at the Tricycle Theatre in London as part of the Trinidad and Tobago High Commission in London's jubilee celebrations. She has a national award from the Government of Trinidad and Tobago for her contribution to art and culture.

Blackwood-Meeks has been instrumental in the renaissance of the art form of traditional Caribbean storytelling by her involvement in the following: the first Caribbean Storytelling Festival, Barbados, 1992; being founder and annual teller at Cayman GimiStory, 1998 to the present; organiser of the first Jamaican Storytelling Festival, 1998; and the organiser of the annual storytelling festival in Jamaica from 1998 to the present. She has participated in other Caribbean festivals and, internationally, at the Scottish International Storytelling Festival; the Festival on the Hudson, 2006; the Jonesboro Festival, 2007; and the Rhode Island Black Storytelling Festival 2008. She has also written and performed full-length, one-woman, storytelling shows. With the national storytelling festivals, she said, "We can really bequeath something wonderful to our children and the nation."

Participating colleges include Moneague Teachers' College, Portmore Community College, Excelsior Community College, Brown's Town Community College, Montego Bay Community College, Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, and Church Teachers' College.