"Year of the Adopted Family" book release

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Diversity of Race/Religion in Storytelling Venues

Disclaimer: Views shared do not reflect any type of scientific survey.

Diversity is often celebrated as a “must-have” for any event including storytelling festivals, conferences and associations.

Types of diversity could be endless, though two are explored here:

  1. Race/Ethnicity
  2. Religion

Question to Ponder:
What types of diversity, if any, have you experienced at storytelling venues? (Examples: Race/Ethnicity, Religion, Gender, Age, etc.)

Upon viewing the average storytelling festival attendance, one can quickly see the vast number of white people. Geography is only one factor as to the audience mix of a storytelling event.

How one would define “white” continues to be debated. At one time or another, Asians, Native Americans, Jews, Irish, Italians—to name a few—were not considered white. Regardless of your personal definition of “white”, sometimes there is few if any variety in colors and cultures within the audience members as well as in the storytellers who headline events.

This is not to say we have a low number of colors and cultures as storytellers despite the majority of whites exhibited in the National Storytelling Network membership. A few cultural organizations include the Black Storytellers Alliance, the National Association of Black Storytellers, the Jewish Storytelling Coalition, and the International Hispanic Storytellers Association (contact Consuelo Samarripa).

When it comes to who are the tellers, there have been complaints that storytelling festivals/conferences do not have enough ethnicity. Usually these complaints are oral and rarely found written in publications or on the Internet, yet these feelings exist. The complaints come from all colors and all ages and often the National Storytelling Festival or the National Storytelling Conference are venues given as examples.

For the 2007 National Storytelling Festival, I looked at the brochure to determine the truthfulness of the complaints. You can decide for yourself by going to the National Storytelling Festival website and viewing the pdf file of the brochure. It may be more productive to ask the featured tellers of what ethnicity they represent. Asking one’s race is personal and complicated so doing such a thing could be considered taboo.

As for the 2007 National Storytelling Conference, it would be easier to state—“Yes, we have a lack of color”—especially if claiming to be “national”.

As every event has different purposes or goals, perhaps the tellers we see featured reflect these goals.

Diversity goes well beyond the color of skin.

From Ed Stivender’s “Growing Up Catholic” tales to the Jewish tales shared by Penninah Schram, certain religions are more prevalent than others on the stage. Sometimes these tales bring humor or reverence to one’s own beliefs.

If you are interested in telling stories from any kind of religion, then contact the Interfaith Discussion Group that is part of the National Storytelling Network. This group provides a list of events such as the Sacred Mountain Stories in Arizona, the Children at the Well in New York, or the Third World Peace Interfaith Storytelling Gathering in Colorado.

As for specific religious storytelling groups, you could go to the Christian Storytelling Network or the Jewish Storytelling Coalition. I attempted to find other religious groups. If you know of any others, please let me know.

During the 2006 Utah StoryFest, a conference geared for the Utah Storytelling Guild and general public, the question was raised as to why there were not any Latter-day Saint (Mormon) storytellers telling LDS stories on the national circuit. Part of these stories could include Bible stories as well as stories from the Book of Mormon. Other stories could involve pioneer stories of the trek west into the Salt Lake Valley to the modern times of “Growing Up Mormon”. The StoryFest attendees supported the idea though, as of yet, I do not know any LDS tellers who have pursued the idea. When I asked some storytelling institute classmates at East Tennessee State University as to how they may respond to hearing LDS stories, positive responses were received.

“Growing Up” stories from any religion have strong possibilities. One of the popular classes at Brigham Young University is World Religions. College administrations across the globe are searching for more ways for their students to experience diversity.

Whether providing space for religious or ethnic tales, turning to universities could be an answer beyond the regular storytelling venues of festivals and conferences.

Until we tell again,

Rachel Hedman
Professional Storyteller
Co-Chair of Youth, Educators, and Storytellers Alliance
(801) 870-5799

No comments: