Tellin’ tall tales and lovin’ it

Three days of tellin’ start today at the ‘Signifyin’ & Testifyin” Storytellers Festival.

Stephanie Dickrell

Some people can just tell a good story.

I lose $3 on the bus and it’s a side note when I tell my roommates about the day.

Then another person loses $3 on the bus, and the story becomes epic, involving a four-nation international conflict and a moral lesson about the world monetary system and the need to share with our neighbors.

Their five-minute ordeal turns into a fascinating performance, one that you can’t look away from.

In another world, in another time, or maybe in north Minneapolis, they could be storytellers, spinning and telling their own stories or those age-old fables from Aesop, the legends from Anansi, the trickster spider and those gruesome fairy tales.

“Storytelling can be used to heal the soul, inspire and motivate the spirit, entertain, guide,” said Nothando Zulu, director of the Black Storytellers Alliance. “There are endless possibilities.”

These possibilities can be explored at the 16th annual “Signifyin’ and Testifyin'” Black Master Storytellers Festival this weekend.

The festival, put on by the Zulu’s alliance, includes nine master storytellers from all over the country. All that talent will converge on Minnesota to spin their tales, entertain and warm the heart.

This year’s theme is Reaching Back to Move Forward, something that Zulu takes to heart.

“It gives more than just the words of stories,” she said. “It does something for the soul.”

Zulu’s love for storytelling is evident in her dedication to the alliance and the festival. The alliance is run out of her home, and she has, more than once, refinanced her house in order to keep the festival going.

Zulu and other storytellers attended a national storyteller’s conference and saw the need to bring that experience to Minnesota.

“We wanted people here in Minnesota to experience the joy that we experienced,” she said. The first festival began in 1991, and has been growing ever since.

An important part of storytelling had to do with families, Zulu said, because storytelling is an integral part of family.

“I encourage families to share their family stories,” she said. That’s the way families can pass down their family history, and also teach their children and help their kids learn from their mistakes, she said.

Marcy Clark, a mother of four from St. Paul, lives Zulu’s advice.

Her four children, Hannah, 12, Alston, 11, John, 9, and Caleb, 7, will be featured as local talent for the three-day festival.

The children were raised around storytellers, said Marcy Clark, their mother.

“I thought it would be a great way for them to have an understanding of African American culture and history,” she said.

The whole family gets into the act at home. Marcy and her husband tell stories to their children about their own childhood.

“I don’t tell enough, I’ll confess,” she said. “Their dad more than makes up for where I lack.”

Marcy’s husband grew up in North Carolina, and he tells the children tales of his boyhood adventures in the woods, she said.

At various performances, the children tell a variety of stories, including tales of Anansi, folk tales and Aesop’s Fables.

The kids are only part of the event, which spans three days. Friday night’s event includes a tall tale contest, where audience members are encouraged to sign up and then tell their best story. The top three winners get a trophy and bragging rights.

As proof this event is for all ages, last year’s winner was a 104 year-old woman, who was visiting her grand-niece, a volunteer with the Storytellers Alliance.

Whether your soul needs healing, your spirit needs lifting or you just need to laugh, the storytelling festival promises to deliver. It’s better and different from any normal Friday night. And who knows, you might discover you are that friend, and you have the power to enthrall, entertain or enlighten those around you.