2011 NEWS

Fairburn Branch Library, performance for the National Black Arts Festival, July, 2011

photo by Evette Bridges


Dec. 3 Dunbar Elementary School for Everybody Wins Atlanta! –the local branch of a national organization that is dedicated to promoting children’s literacy through programs designed to improve reading skills in low income public elementary schools.

Nov.9 The National Association of Black Storytellers Annual Conference – Cynthia Watts poured libation for the official beginning of the conference, Atlanta, GA

Sept. 24 Cynthia Watts was the featured artist at Radcliff Presbyterian Church revival program Atlanta, GA

April 6 Cynthia Watts served as emcee for Evening of Storytelling for Kuumba Storytellers of Georgia

Salvation Army Summer Camp, Bellwood Center, Atlanta, GA July, 2011
Salvation Army Summer Camp, Bellwood Center, Atlanta, GA July, 2011

Reflections on Storytelling
Jones Family Reunion Philadelphia, PA
August, 2011

So why did you become a storyteller?

Who do you work for?

The questioning glances and genuine interest motivated me to share a bit of my story.

My personal heritage was shared though stories told to me by my grandparents, and my parents. That in and of itself is I think normal, but on trips south much more was shared. Both sets of my grandparents were part of the great migration of blacks who moved from the rural south to northern cities in the early 1920’s. My maternal grandparents moved from Virginia, and my paternal grandparents moved from Alabama all settled in Philadelphia, Penslyvia. As was common for the times my maternal grandparents had little formal education but looked forward to prosperity through the employment opportunities in the north. My grandmother worked as a maid and my grandfather worked as a typesetter in a publishing house. My paternal grandmother had graduated from “Normal School” which was equated to some college. Before moving to Philadelphia she taught elementary school, however her credentials were not accepted in her adopted city so she worked as a seamstress and my grandfather as a builder. My parents were born in Philadelphia and graduated from integrated public schools in the 1940’s. I too graduated from integrated schools of Philadelphia.
My family was tightly knit and I got to know them through their experiences and their stories. My maternal grandmother Mary Ogburn Boyd returned to Virginia each summer to visit family – these highly anticipated visits were greatly enjoyed. Spending time with family, maintaining the family cementetary, and attending religious services at the family church, established by her father in the early 1900’s were all enjoyed activities. My paternal grandparents – the Watts’ did not have fond memories of Alabama, my grandfather Doc Watts returned once in the 1960’s, but my grandmother Mary seldom spoke of her childhood nor did she ever return home.
Throughout my childhood I enjoyed traveling south to Virginia with my grandmother, the rural lifestyle, southern traditions and getting to know my family made for summer fun I treasured. My visits to Virginia were brief but frequent throughout my growing up years. Radio stations ceased broadcasting early in the evening, no one had a television or air conditioning so the family, often 12-16 people, many of them children, sat on the porch listening to and sharing stories. It was there that I learned of quirky family folk, deceased relatives, the history of slavery in the hamlet of Kenbridge and gained a sense of their world view.
I attended college in the mid west and received at Bachelors Degree and Master’s Degree from the University of Denver. My first job was in rural North Carolina at Kittrell College, after 2 years there I moved to Hampton, Virginia. Both those locations were near my extended family in Kenbridge. My notions of living in the south were different than my childhood memories. I moved to Atlanta to teach and was active in the arts community. I was encouraged by a colleague to attend a storytelling conference in Tennessee. It was fun and reminded me of those summer evening spent on the porch at the feet of elders listening to stories. Shortly after returning to Atlanta I mentioned my weekend of attending a storytelling conference to a friend who taught elementary school. She invited me to visit her classroom to tell stories. Telling was an eye opening experience. Other schools invited me to tell stories – each time I performed I learned more about audiences and more about the stories I selected.
Sometimes when I was reading and selecting stories to tell I could hear the voices of my ancestors telling the story. I realized that some of the stories I researched had a strong kinship to the stories I had heard as a child. These stories shared universal truths-guidelines for living.
Stories are often age appropriate. While in Washington, DC I told a story to an audience of adults with a few children present. One story concerned two characters; one was shy the other more outgoing trying to gain the affections of a young woman. The shy young man invited his outgoing friend to attend the party with him to help bolster his confidence. All goes well but the shy young man who lacked confidence left the party early. The outgoing young man stayed at the party and though he was not as handsome as his friend after a time the young woman preferred him. At the conclusion of the story a young audience member summed up the story by staying don’t introduce your girlfriend to your friends – you cannot trust them. Adults interpreted the story very differently.
As I tell stories I see the audience imagining the events- it is magical for me. So I tell stories because I relish the relationship developed with the audience. Storytelling allows me to sometimes catch a glimpse of the inside or soul of a person. While telling stories in a youth detention center this was the case. When I entered the facility I was escorted by a guard though a series of doors that locked automatically when closed. In the room where I was lead to tell stories about 15 young men, were assembled they appeared sullen and disinterested. Although all were teenagers they were in detention for having committed grievous crimes. I remember thinking these were young men I hoped never to meet on a dark street alone. As I began telling stories their body postures changed – they looked toward me, the sullen expressions were replaced by the look of childhood innocence. For all of the bravado I saw at the beginning of the show I realized the young men were really teenage boys. They enjoyed the stories and for the brief time we were together they were seemingly able to escape thoughts of the activities that had caused their detention.
Whether telling stories to an audience of 200 seven year olds or sharing stories with a group of senior citizens in a healthcare facility I derive pleasure in sharing the stories. I have told stories at funerals, family reunions, schools, colleges, corporate meetings, community festivals and other places where people gather to share and celebrate our uniqueness as human beings. Through stories we share history, cultural values and the shear pleasure of communicating. Each time I am engaged in this ancient art form I realize that storytelling is as old as earth yet as fresh as the rain.


Cynthia Watts
e-mail: watts-story@mindspring.com
PHONE (404) 758-9873
FAX (404) 758-0800