Stories are like Roots to the Past… and Wings to the Future
Since 1997 Denise Valentine has provided enthusiastic and interactive storytelling performances for schools, libraries, museums, community events and conferences around the country: Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, New York, Rhode Island, Atlanta, South Carolina, New Orleans, and in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Denise Valentine uses the power of story to inspire hope, transcend differences between people, and transform negativity. Her programs are designed to entertain and inspire audiences of all ages. Her stories encourage exchange between generations and promote a spirit of connectedness and community. She has a passion for researching history, then, bringing it to life with her captivating voice.
Some of her Performance and Workshop Themes include: Roots and Wings – Stories of Freedom and Hope from African and African American History; and Reclaiming Power & Dignity Through Story – stories for healing and empowerment for at-risk youth, teen parents, battered women, and ex-offenders.
Denise is one of 30 new artist and arts ensembles included in the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts 2006-2007 Artist in Education Directory for Southeast Pennsylvania. In 2004 she was awarded The Leeway Foundation of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s Window of Opportunity Grant to study folklore traditions in South Africa. She is a member Keepers of the Culture, Inc. (KOTC) Philadelphia’s Afrocentric Storytelling Group, the National Association of Black Storytellers, and the National Storytelling Network
What made you want to become a storyteller?
I became a storyteller through circumstances that, at first, seemed accidental. They were actually a culmination of all my interests and skills. I have always been a voracious reader. I have a passion for researching world history and culture. I am also passionate about human rights.
As a youth, I joined a religious organization that promotes peace through education and culture. I participated in a chorus of 1000 young women in the World Youth Culture Festival in Hawaii, and the Books for Africa Project, in which 15,000 books were collected nationwide and presented to two universities in Ghana.
In the late 80’s, I became active in the struggle to free Nelson Mandela and end apartheid in South Africa. I even met Mr. Mandela when he came to Philadelphia to accept the Liberty Medal. These events inspired me to become a writer, and then a storyteller for social change
Was the journey difficult?
There were countless obstacles along the way, but that is a part of the creative process, a part of life.
What were some of your favorite stories growing up?
One of my favorite stories is Stone Soup, a tale about hungry soldiers who beg villagers for food. The stingy villagers all claim to have none because of a poor harvest. But the soldiers trick the villagers into believing that they can make a pot of soup with stones. In the end, they all share a wonderful feast and become friends. I enjoy stories in which ordinary things and everyday people are the heroes.
Is there a difference between writing a story and telling a story?
A storyteller must use body language, facial expressions, and voice inflection to help convey what is happening in a story. A storyteller must become the story, and experience it with the audience.
What is the difference between a fable, a parable, and a fairy tale?
Fairy tales are often full of magic charms, elves and fairies, and the hero or heroine almost always live “happily ever after.” Hans Christian Anderson (Denmark), compiled fairy tales like The Princess and the Pea and The Ugly Duckling. The Grimm brothers’ (Germany), collection of fairy tales include Cinderella, Hänsel and Gretel, and Rapunzel. They are derived from folktales, passed on orally from generation to generation.
A fable is a brief story that teaches a moral or lesson. The characters are typically animals with human traits. The most famous collector of fables was Aesop, said to be a slave of African descent who lived in Ancient Greece in about the 5th Century B.C.
Parables are short sayings that express a commonly known moral or lesson. Each of Aesop’s fables has a moral added at the end. For example: the moral of The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing is “Appearances are often deceiving;” The Hare and the Tortoise, “Slow and steady wins the race;” and Lion and the Mouse, “Little friends may become great friends.”
If you could be one character in a story who would you be and why?
I was so pragmatic as a child. I questioned the “happily ever-after” endings in fairy tales. I wondered why storybooks didn’t have princesses who looked like me. I loved trickster tales like Anansi, and Brer’ Rabbit stories.
Stories about Anansi the Spider were brought to America by enslaved peoples from the west coast of Africa. Anansi the spider in Yoruba folktales, and the tortoise in the stories of the Ibo people, are unlikely heroes. Anansi was always starting trouble, but he used wit and charm to outsmart those more powerful, and usually larger than he was.
If you could have coffee with one famous storyteller who would it be and why?
I have always admired Jackie Torrence, but never had the opportunity to meet her. Jackie Torrence learned to tell stories by listening to her grandparents, uncles and aunts. She shared her stories with folks in small town gatherings and around the world. She passed away in 2004, and will be remembered as one of America’s best-known and best-loved storytellers. Listen to Jackie Torrence at:
What inspires you as a storyteller?
People inspire me; the things we do, good and bad. The wonders of the earth, and the mysteries of the universe.
What advice would you give a storyteller faced with writer’s block?
- Stimulate your imagination.
- Go to storytelling festivals, national or local.
- Read story anthologies:
- Talk That Talk: An Anthology of African-American Story Telling, Edited by Linda Goss and Marian E. Barnes
- Story, The Poem in the Story, The World and the Word (Ed), by Harold Scheub
- Read “The Artist’s Way,” by Julia Cameron
What stories are you working on presently?
I am currently writing: The Ancestor Tree, the story of a tree that watches over three generations of a family and Grandma’s Porch, a story about southern hospitality.
Finally, what advice would you give kids who wish to pursue a career in storytelling?
Locate your local storytelling guild, ask if they have a Youth storytelling guild.
(NSN) National Storytelling Network: http://www.storynet.org/
(NABS) National Association of Black Storytellers: http://www.nabsinc.org/home.asp
Voices Across America – a Nationwide effort to create youth storytelling clubs in schools and communities across the U. S., and the world.
Attend the Smoky Mountain Storytelling Festival and National Youth Storytelling Showcase, February 1 – 3, 2007. Pigeon Forge, TN www.nationalyouthstorytellingshowcase.org/
Send your work to Stone Soup, the magazine by young writers and artists., ages 8 to 13; stories, poems, illustrations, art, book reviews.
Generosity of Spirit — A Folktale Resource
Where can kids and parents find out more about your work?
Visit my website:
Read my Story
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