Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ A tale not told

200px-FrancisbarberReport-back sessions can be real eye-openers. A vital part of any storytelling course I’ve ever run, they’re times when people can say what they’ve been making of stories and techniques that have come up in the course and also, just as importantly, what new directions they’ve prompted in their thinking.

A blog is by no means a course. Yet it’s beginning to feel to me as if it can act in a similar way. Might it even help create a new community of people with a common interest in storytelling however far afield they live?

From Bangalore to Brisbane:

On one single day this week, I opened my computer to find messages from two such far-flung places as Bangalore and Brisbane in Australia. I was amazed and delighted. The person in Bangalore does storytelling with children and is working on a dissertation as part of a Diploma in Storytelling. Meg in Brisbane had not only recognised the story I’d told in this blog last week. She’d herself heard it told by Maureen Watson, the Aboriginal storyteller who created it. Maureen is a great community leader, says Meg, and she’d created the story to encourage children to work together.

From 18th century London to now:

220px-Olaudah_Equiano_-_Project_Gutenberg_eText_15399Stories and the techniques of telling them are powerful in so many ways. This week a talk I went to gave me an insight into the potential of a kind of story I don’t usually do much with. The talk was linked with Black History month and was on Black Georgians in London – in other words, black people living in London during the course of the 18th century. No-one really knows how many there were. Estimates have varied widely from 1,400 to 20,000. Most had come here as slaves, brought by wealthy people from estates in colonised parts of the world such as the Caribbean. Some became well-known in their time. Olaudah Equiano wrote a book on his life. Frances Barber became the manservant of Samuel Johnson, the great litterateur and creator of the first English dictionary. It’s possible Barber played some part in helping to put the dictionary together. Certainly when Johnson died, he inherited his money.

These were exceptions. Names of quite a few other exceptions are known. Portraits exist of a surprising number. However, the life of the wider community of black people in 18th century London is hardly known at all. Their lives and experience remain a blank. It is not even now commonly recognised that they were here. And that was the lecturer’s point.

I came away longing to hear more. In particular I wanted to hear the stories. I wanted to hear them told in a compelling way. I wanted to hear them told as constituting an important part of this country’s history. How important that could be for both adults and children now in our multicultural Britain – and at a time when great population movements, enforced and otherwise, are taking place in the world around us. How powerfully it could be help us think about the ordinary people concerned and begin to recognise what it must have been like – what it must still be like – to have to live in a society where you are scorned and thought worthless, where you have no stake.

Storytelling is not only myth and legend and folktale. It is history too. I shall be thinking more about this.

P.S. The top photo this week is of a portrait thought to be of Frances Barber. The bottom photo is of a portrait of Olaudah Equiano who was otherwise known as Gustavus Vassa.


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