Acclaimed storyteller charms Woodstock audience

Even though we weren’t allowed in outer East Portland schools where she told stories, we did catch up with this wonderful teller of stories at this East Portland library. You really must meet her …

Master storyteller, Charlotte Blake Alston, prepares for her session at the Woodstock Branch Library.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Part of Multnomah County Library’s 2010 Tapestry of Tales are storytelling sessions at outer East Portland elementary schools. This year Ventura Park and Mill Park were included on the tour.

Because those sessions were closed to the media, we checked and found one of the world’s best storytellers, Charlotte Blake Alston from Philadelphia, was appearing in Woodstock.

Almost as soon as the multipurpose room was opened for the day at Woodstock Library on November 20, it was filled with families awaiting the arrival of internationally- acclaimed storyteller

“I’m so pleased to be here,” Alston told as, as fished through her bag, looking for her mbira (sometimes called a “thumb piano”).

“I am but one of three nationally-recognized storytellers at this, the 11th annual festival. We’ve been at area schools and branch libraries; we’ll all come together this evening in Woodstock for a concert.”

Charlotte Blake Alston brings all together, in spirit, as her story begins.

Alston said, a schoolteacher for two decades, that she has always incorporated storytelling into her classroom. “Among other things, you hope teachers bring history and stories alive.”

Although she started out only in the classroom, she tried storytelling at a school assembly. “The student and teacher reaction surprised me. So, I went to hear a storyteller. Using only his voice, he transported us out of the space that we were in. Then, I began to look at storytelling a little bit differently. Now, here I am!”

Alston said she left the classroom in August, 1990. “I thought I’d try this for a year or two, and that was 21 years ago. Now, I continue to tell traditional and contemporary stories from the African and African American oral and cultural traditions.”

Singing and storytelling make Charlotte Blake Alston’s programs enthralling.

Smiling at her eager audience, she turned back to us and explained why she loves doing programs in libraries. “It’s the opportunity to share a storytelling with both children and adults; sharing it with families. In some way it reverts back to the ‘village’ telling, where the families would gather around and share stories together. It’s something of a high quality activity that parents and children can do together.”

At the appointed time, Alston took her mbira in hand – and, with a lyrical voice,sang the introduction to her program; soon her audience was singing rounds of the song with her. Clearly, this audience had already been whisked away on a fascinating journey by this master storyteller.

To learn more about Alston, see her website: CLICK HERE to open her homepage.

© 2011 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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