Getting to Know Charlotte Blake Alston

Courtney Burns

 
One of Timpanogos’ favorite storytellers, Charlotte Blake Alston has a wonderful way of weaving stories that allow listeners of all ages to see themselves and the world around them in new and vital ways. With wisdom, wit, and frequently music, Charlotte’s stories are guaranteed to enchant and entertain.

     

  1. What is the first story you remember hearing and/or the first story you remember telling?

 

What sticks in my memory is the voice of Miss Alexander (later, Mrs. Mitchell) my 2nd grade teacher reading Br’er Rabbit stories. She would tell us, “If you get all your work done, I’ll read you a story.” We got aaalll our work done fast! She had a big oversized book of tales. She would pull out her teacher’s chair, open that big book and transport us to the world of Br’er Rabbit, Br’er Bear, Br’er Fox, Sis’ Coon and the crew. The first oral presentation I gave as a 6 year-old was a poem by African American poet, Paul Laurence Dunbar and a comedic monologue my father wrote for me to learn and deliver. Later, as an adult – teaching kindergarten at the time – the first story I told was the Ashanti story Who’s in Rabbit’s House. My students presented it as a skit in an assembly program.

     

  1. How was the seed of storytelling planted in your life?

 
The seed of storytelling was planted by my Dad. My mother was a musician. She was the organist – pipe organ – at our church. She accompanied choirs, soloists, played for funerals, weddings and social events in the community. My dad had NO musical talent but was gifted with words. As a child, I would sit quietly near him when he was trying to find time to write in a private space away from his 5 kids! I loved being around my dad. Eventually he began reading out loud to me some of what he was reading or writing. Then he gave me the complete poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar and selected poems for me to read. I read them over and over and quickly memorized several. I think when he saw how good my memory was, a light bulb went on in his head and he started writing monologues for me to learn and ‘recite’ as well. Much later, as an adult and while I was still a classroom teacher, I learned of a newly formed storytelling guild in Philadelphia. Patchwork was formed in the late 70’s. I went to a storytelling event they sponsored. I heard the first storyteller and my heart was Home!

     

  1. Where does storytelling grow from here? How do you want see storytelling influencing society?

 
I believe storytelling allows us to see each other – not as Democrat, Republican, Protestant, Baha’i,’ethnic minorities’ or ‘ethnic majorities – but as people; fellow humans all on the same planet, on the same human journey with far more common human experience than uncommon. Storytelling allows you to see a reflection of yourself, of your humanity – through the stories we share. Stories are manifestations of the compilation of human experience throughout our existence on the planet. Embodied within them are distillations of the range of human experience and wisdom gained through the ages – wisdom that still speaks to us today. Despite the all-pervading presence of digital communication devices, I believe as long as human beings exist and can speak, they will tell stories – whether it is the five-year-old at the dinner table sharing her school day, the minister bringing to life a sacred teaching, a patient educating a physician through her personal health narrative, the family elder recounting family history and genealogy at a family reunion, or the lawyer advocating for his client, storytelling with always be with us and will always serve as a medium for substantive and meaningful reflection. It is my hope that the gathering together of ‘the village’ to hear and share OUR human stories will continue in both formal and informal ways in communities across the country.

 

  1. If you needed to start a dance party, what song would you lead with?

 

I’m a child of the sixties so the first song that comes to mind from my house party days is Heatwave by Martha and the Vandellas. It still gets my friends and me on our feet for a bit of a Twist dance revival! Also, almost anything by the ‘Godfather of Soul’ – James Brown! Otherwise, just about anything from Motown artists” The Four Tops, The Temptations, Diana Ross and The Supremes, Junior Walker and the All Stars… Let’s Party!!

 

Be sure to catch Charlotte Blake Alston during this year’s Festival. For more information visit http://timpfest.org/events/28th-annual-timpanogos-storytelling-festival.

 

Charlotte closes her emails with these powerful words that we thought would be an appropriate ending here as well: Words have power – use them thoughtfully.

505x218 Charlotte Blake Alston

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