Black storytellers from all over the globe are planning an outspoken gathering in Baltimore next week, hoping to keep the telling of tales from becoming a lost art.
The National Association of Black Storytellers, which held its first-ever convention here in 1982, chose to return to Baltimore to celebrate its 20th anniversary, in part because its co-founder - 83-year-old Mary Carter Smith, known informally as "Mother Griot"- is a longtime city resident.
Smith, a retired schoolteacher and librarian, took up storytelling later in life. Griot is an African word that refers to a village or town storyteller.
Smith said the convention is expected to attract between 400 and 500 people.
The storytelling movement is meant to preserve tales that were told and passed down through generations of African-American families.
Enoch Pratt Free Library officials have arranged for 23 programs of storytelling. They have scheduled sessions at each of its 21 branches. Another two sessions will be at Pratt's main library downtown.
"The tradition of the griot is so rich in the African-American community, and we wanted to share that," said Pratt spokeswoman Mona M. Rock.
"The national president, Stanley Butler, is the branch manager of the Walbrook branch, so we are so glad he came to us and said they are coming back to Baltimore for the 20th anniversary," Rock added.
The tales often provide a lesson in life, such as how to provide for a family or how to deal with a crisis. Animal characters are used to instruct and entertain listeners.
Zora Neale Hurston, the writer who collected and catalogued such folk tales and traditions throughout the South in the early 20th century, will be honored at a gala named for her, organizers said.
A free "Liars' Contest" will be held at 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 16, at the Sheraton Hotel in Towson, 903 Dulaney Valley Road, where the conference will be based from Monday to Saturday. "The contest is open to anyone who wants to tell a lie," Smith said.
Smith has just completed a manuscript that contains the longest tale she has ever told - the story of her life. The autobiography, titled A Tale That is Told, was a seven-year project encompassing the many hard times in her life, such as the deaths of her mother and son.
"We share our grief, too," Smith said. "Tragedy does things to you."
For more library program information, call (410) 396-5494 or (410) 396-0256.