Noted African American women folklorists and storytellers to speak

Noted African American women folklorists and storytellers to speak

(February 1, 2005) The Philadelphia Folklore Project announces, in honor of ODUNDE's 30th Anniversary and Art Sanctuary's 21st Annual Celebration of Black Writing, an afternoon gathering of folklorists and storytellers, sharing stories and conversation. The program is titled Folklore and self-knowledge: how stories tell us who we are. The afternoon features noted area scholars and storytellers: Dr. Kathryn Morgan (folklorist, author of Children of Strangers), Linda Goss (storyteller, author of Talk That Talk), and Thelma Shelton Robinson (South Philly born and raised “poetic storyteller"). Event dates and times are:

Saturday, February 19th 
1:00 - 4:00 p.m.
Church of the Advocate
18th and Diamond Streets
Admission: $5 or a good story about why you don't have it! (Three special prizes)

The afternoon promises lively performance and conversation - a treat for everyone who's ever listened to or loved a story, told a lie, or struggled with the truth. The Folklore Project has brought together one of today's most insightful folklorists and two of the region's most thoughtful storytellers to illuminate how stories tell us who we really are, how they help us to know ourselves and others, how they place us in time and space. Pioneers in their own right, these scholars and artists of the spoken word will share stories and talk about how stories carry cultural and individual self-knowledge. The afternoon will include reading, telling, and discussion, followed by a reception. Performers will be introduced by Lois Fernandez, founder of ODUNDE.

This event is a special collaboration in honor of ODUNDE's 30th anniversary. The Folklore Project will also publish a special issue of their magazine, Works in Progress, featuring writing by the speakers. More information is also available below including biographical information, and bibliographical information and other resources. The Folklore Project is privileged to present three significant local verbal artists in a program of reflection on self-knowledge, folklore, and African American oral tradition.

Dr. Kathryn Morgan is a renowned and pioneering scholar and a writer. When she first wrote down and reflected upon her African American family stories of survival in 1974, Dr. Morgan broke new ground and anticipated the field of family folklore and the storytelling movement. Her important book, Children of Strangers, the first work of African American family folklore by a folklorist, has been translated into Portuguese and she has recently returned from touring Brazil, where she read and told stories and led people in community storytelling projects. A fictional work in progress continues her powerful consideration of place, voice, memory, ancestors and African American experience. Morgan is currently Sarah Lawrence Lightfoot Emerita Professor in History and Folklore at Swarthmore College. She arrived at Swarthmore in 1970 as the college's first African American professor and later became the first African American woman to be granted tenure there. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Morgan earned an M.A. from Howard University and an M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. She has written on ex-slave narratives, African American folklore, history, and culture. Current projects include a book of poetry with artist Syd Carpenter. For the Self-Knowledge program, she returns to the Church of the Advocate which she attended as a child, and which features in her book.

Linda Goss was born near the Smoky Mountains in an aluminum factory town, Alcoa, Tennessee. She grew up listening to the storytelling of her grandfather Murphy, who shared stories of life under slavery as well as a heritage of folk tales. She continues to tell some of the stories that she learned from her family. (One of her children's books, The frog who wanted to be a singer, is a retelling of her father's favorite story). Her education in storytelling began in her family. Stories about ethical values, courtship, the civil rights struggle in Tennessee, stories from personal experience, and hundreds of stories that she has gathered over decades of serious study and performance of stories, are now in her repertoire. She is the "Official Storyteller" of Philadelphia. A pioneer of the contemporary storytelling movement, she was co-founder of the National Black Storytelling Festival and Conference, and The National Association of Black Storytellers, a founding member of Keepers of the Culture (a Philadelphia-area affiliate of NABS), and of Patchwork: a Storytelling Guild, the author of numerous books, and a contributor to numerous collections on African American storytelling. She holds an undergraduate degree from Howard University, Washington, D.C. and am M.A. from Antioch University.

Thelma Shelton Robinson describes herself as a poetic storyteller. She primarily focuses her tales on her own life experiences, and on stories that she heard, coming up in Philadelphia in the 1940s - 1950s. Her father was a vivid storyteller and her mother raised her on stories about her childhood in Virginia. She recalls a weekend roomer, Mrs. Walton, "whose stories were so scary you were afraid to go to bed" as well as the numerous neighbors who came into her father's corner store, Veteran's Rest. The store was a hangout for Ms. Robinson as a child; she'd go in and out, listening to neighbors tell their tales. She valued what she heard, appreciating the different narrative styles and perspectives. She reflects, "When an elder passes, it's like a library burns down because there is so much information that is lost. And without other people who know that information - it just goes." It wasn't until she retired from decades of secretarial work that she began to truly pursue her love of poetry and storytelling. Over the last decades, she has made her presence felt, performing locally. She received the Oshun award in 2003, from ODUNDE, Inc., naming her the "poet laureate of South Philadelphia." Ms. Robinson notes, "I find that truth is stranger than fiction. If you tell some of these true stories, people don't believe it. I tell about things that I remembered as a child, and about things that were important, not just to me, but to everybody. Experience doesn't matter if you haven't got stories."

The Philadelphia Folklore Project is an 18-year-old public interest folklife organization that works to sustain cultural and artistic practices rooted in the histories, traditions,and everyday lives of people in the Philadelphia area. We collaborate with artists, cultural workers, and communities to increase respect for, understanding of, and access to local grassroots arts and humanities, and to challenge systems and practices that diminish these traditions. We investigate and articulate the ways that folk arts foster social change through a range of offerings: public programs (exhibitions, performances, education, residencies, workshops), research and documentation (including publications, media, and an archive) and through extensive technical assistance services. For more information visit or call 215.726.1106.

This program is funded by the Humanities-in-the-Arts Initiative, administered by the Pennsylvania Humanities Council and funded principally by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, and Philadelphia Folklore Project members.

Folklore and self-knowledge: storytelling by Dr. Kathryn Morgan, Linda Goss, and Thelma Shelton Robinson. Followed by open discussion and reception. Organized by the Philadelphia Folklore Project, with ODUNDE and Art Sanctuary, as part of the 21st Annual Celebration of Black Writing. On Saturday, February 19th, 1:00 - 4:00 p.m., at the Church of the Advocate, 18th and Diamond Streets. Admission: $5 or a good story about why you don't have it! (Three special prizes). For more information: Philadelphia Folklore Project, 215.726.1106 or