Storyteller relates lessons through stories

This article submitted by Linda Stelling on 4/25/01.

The elementary kids listened intently as Maddie Clark, an African-American storyteller, told them a folk tale about a snake and frog last week. They sang folk songs and listened to stories from her childhood.

Clark was at the Paynesville Area Elementary School on Thursday as part of the Young Audiences of Minnesota series.

Storyteller Maddie Clark told African folk tales to Paynesville Area Elementary School children last week.

A storyteller for over 35 years, Clark started telling stories in a school in North Minneapolis where she worked when she found out the students didn't know the African stories of their forefathers.

"I've been hearing stories since I was five," she said. "I grew up in a large family and my great-grandmother took me in. I learned many of the stories from her."

Through her storytelling, Clark has had the opportunity to travel throughout Minnesota. Her stories are entertaining and instructive. Each African story is a lesson emphasizing obedience to parents, being courageous, making good friends, and showing respect.

Clark taught the students an African proverb: "I am because we are and because we are, I am!"

"This means you are an individual and have many friends," she told the students.

Several school children were thrilled to be called up front when Clark started talking about sharing and used them as an example.

In response to a question asking whether it was hard to grow up as an African-American, Clark related a story from her youth.

When she was a child living with her grandmother, she had an 85-mile bus ride if she wanted to visit her mother. "There were no bathrooms on buses back then. If you had to go, they wouldn't stop the bus for a black child," she explained. "Thus if you were going to take a trip, you didn't eat or drink anything for fear you'd have to use the bathroom."

Clark encouraged the children to ask their grandparents to tell them stories of their childhood.

Clark is in the process of writing a book on the stories she learned from her great-grandmother. "I know tons of stories. I've been trying to write down the stories people have told me over the years," she said.

African people are always giving Clark stories. It's an honor, she said, to be given a story.

In preparation for her performance, the first through third grade teachers have been discussing African-American history and storytelling with the kids. The teachers taught the students that Africa is a large, diverse continent where storytelling is an essential means of passing down history and lessons. Because the law forbade slaves from reading and writing, these stories flourished.

Return to Archives