Baltimore is throwing a giant book party Celebration: Storytellers, authors, children's book characters gather at city's second book festival

UP FRONT

September 25, 1997|By Sandra Crockett | Sandra Crockett,SUN STAFF

Stanley "Bunjo" Butler is a natural-born storyteller. But it wasn't until 13 years ago that he became a professional one.

"I have found it an art form that allows me to be my creative self," says Butler. "And I have a commitment to perpetuate the African oral tradition."

Butler will be spinning his tales, along with other storytellers, at Baltimore Book Festival II, going on this weekend at Mount Vernon Place.

Storytelling wasn't too much of a leap from Bunjo's more traditional profession, a librarian and branch manager of the Enoch Pratt Free Library.

"I was encouraged by a co-worker at the Pratt to become a storyteller," he says. "She liked my voice. And I think the co-worker saw in me an ability to share stories, a concern for teaching, a concern for children. And a concern for adults. Storytelling is an art form for all ages."

And the co-worker was right, says Butler, who is past president of the Griots' Circle of Maryland Inc.

He constantly is researching stories to share with others. "The stories come from a number of sources. There are collected stories, and you need to hear other people's tales."

But storytelling is more than about having a fun time, he says. "It's not a medium of entertainment only. It's a way of transferring information. I call it 'educa-tainment.' I love it for its teaching, but I make it happen on a performance level, too."

Butler will be spinning his tales on Sunday at 2 p.m. at the festival's children's entertainment tent.

Storytellers will be just a part of the celebration. There will be books with plenty of stories in them for just about every age and taste at the festival.

There will be children's writers such as children's novelist Mary-Claire Helldorfer and home repair books from such authors as Allegra Bennett ("Renovating Woman: A Guide to Home Repair, Maintenance and Real Men"). Blair Walker, co-author of "Why Do White Guys Have All the Fun," (John Wiley & Sons, 1995) about the late entrepreneur Reginald Lewis, checks in with a new fictional thriller set in Baltimore called "Up Jumped The Devil" (Avon Books, 1997).

"It's about a black newspaper reporter, Darryl Billups, who works for the Baltimore Herald," Walker says. "The neo-Nazis come into town, wreaking havoc and threatening to bomb the NAACP. He does everything to stop that . . . and has a romance along the way," says the Baltimore native and former reporter for The Sun.

The festival also will have offerings for poetry lovers -- from Maryland poet laureate Roland Flint to Pulitzer Prize-winner Maxine Kumin.

For book lovers who like some music in the background, there will be acts performing throughout the day including contemporary jazz singer Slim Man, zydeco music from Gumbo Junkyard and rhythm and blues from State of Affairz.

Among all of the notable writers, musicians, poets, publishers and cooks, there is one among them who couldn't even read until 12 years ago when he was 26 years old.

Curtis Aikens is an author, a chef and a national television personality.

When he was 26, Aikens said enough is enough and sought help for his illiteracy.

Before taking that first step, which meant admitting he could not read, Aikens had to get past feelings of remorse and self-doubt. "I had a lot of shame and embarrassment over it," he says in a telephone conversation from his San Francisco home. "I didn't feel good about it at all."

Aikens, whose television program, "Pick of the Day," is on cable television's Food Network, graduated from high school and went through one year of college. Yet, still, he couldn't read. "That this could happen, I know sounds puzzling to people who have been reading most of their lives. But it happened. And it's still happening. It's happening all of the time."

Aikens called himself a "functional illiterate" and in his case, that meant he could not even pick up a newspaper and make out the words. He made his way in the world by asking a lot of questions and trying to memorize everything.

"It was not a pretty sight," he says. "I was always into a cycle of running and hiding, running and hiding." One day, while watching television, a commercial aired about a literacy program held at a public library. Aikens picked up the telephone and made the call. "It took me a month to get in the program," he says. "But they said, 'Yes, they could help me.' "

Learning to read, he says, was like an awakening.

"It was like looking at a blank wall before, then having someone turn on a light," he says. Now Aikens is an avid reader. "I always have one book with me, if not two," he says.

But he does more than support the publishing industry by buying books. He donates a large proceed of the profits from his books, "Curtis Cooks with Heart & Soul"; "Recipes to Weight Loss"; and "Curtis Aikens' Guide to the Harvest," to literacy programs.

"I am so completely committed to literacy programs," he says.

Festival goers can hear more from Aikens by attending his cooking demonstration Saturday at noon.

Music to read by

In conjunction with the Baltimore Book Festival, the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University will be holding an open house 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Visitors may attend performances by Conservatory and Preparatory ensembles, including the Peabody Symphony Orchestra featuring violinist Martin Beaver; Peabody Concert Orchestra; Peabody Concert Singers performing Broadway show tunes with saxophonist Jason McFeaters; Preparatory Brass Ensemble; Bay Street Brassworks; and other chamber ensembles. Everyone may visit an instrument petting zoo and participate in dance, theater, singing and early childhood classes. There will be music on the plaza from the Peabody Children's Chorus, Young Persons String Program and other activities. Tours of the Peabody Campus will take place every 30 minutes. Admission is free. For more information, call the Peabody box office at 410-659-8124.

Pub Date: 9/25/97

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