World of Difference – an interview with Linda Gorham (1 September 2006)

Introduction

After I interviewed Chris King, one of the storytellers I had in mind to contact was Linda. I liked the website created for her and I also enjoyed reading about her work. Through our correspondence and this interview, I would hazard a guess that Linda is one extremely vivacious person. I will leave you to come to your own conclusion. Without further ado, I have great pleasure in introducing to you Linda Gorham …


Aneeta: Linda, thank you for agreeing to this interview

Linda: My pleasure Aneeta. I’m thrilled to know that more and more people are interested in the art of storytelling. When I tell people that I’m a storyteller, they are often surprised. They’ll say something like, “You’re a what?” And then the kiss of death, they’ll often say, “Oh, you read books to little kids during story times at libraries?” Aaarg! Storytelling is so much more. First of all it’s not reading, it’s telling. As you know, there’s a world of difference when you put down a book and relate a story.

Aneeta: Please, do tell me a little about your family background – your family, where you live and so on.

Linda: I live in Aurora, Illinois, a western suburb of Chicago. I’ve lived all over the United States (and even in Germany), but I always say my home is where I am now. My husband John will celebrate our 25th anniversary this year. We have two wonderful, amazing and talented sons, Anwar and Jamal. Anwar just graduated with honors from American University in Washington, DC this spring (2007). Jamal is a junior honor student at the University of Illinois in Champaign, IL.

Aneeta: How and why did you first become interested in storytelling?

Linda: Back in 1990 I saw a storyteller perform. She stood confidently on stage and captivated all 100 or so audience members with her presence and her stories. I was impressed! After the show I asked her for advice about telling stories. She said simply, “Learn a story and tell it in a safe place.” It sounded easy enough so I took her advice, selected a couple of stories, practiced them, and then told them to my older son’s kindergarten class (he’s the one who just graduated from college). The reaction of the kids and the teacher was amazing. The kids laughed. The teacher smiled. The kids wanted more. The teacher invited me back, “Anytime,” she said. I was hooked.

Aneeta: For the benefit of my readers, please tell me, how do you work?

Linda: Well, there is no science to storytelling, but basically I tell updated versions of old folktales “with attitude.” You may ask, “What is with attitude?” I’m glad you asked. J I like to include modern references to add surprise and humor to my stories. I like to include my audiences by getting them to participate. I like to use my body and facial expressions to make my stories come alive. You see, it’s all about “attitude!”

Aneeta: Do you have a specific set of people you work with?

Linda: The beauty of storytelling is that it appeals to all ages. Now of course some stories are only appropriate for certain ages. I try to be careful to craft my stories with particular ages in mind. But in short I work with age 3 through 93. This includes performances in preschools, elementary, middle and high schools, and colleges. I’ve even told to students in law school. There are no limits. By the way for folks over 93, I ask them to tell me their stories!

Aneeta: I see from your website, http://www.lindagorham.com/ that you run several programs. Please, do give us a description of each one …

Linda: I started out telling folktales, but as requests came in, and as my own interests developed, my repertoire grew and grew. Now I have several basic overall categories for my stories. As I develop new stories, I put them in an existing category. My goal, from my publicity statement, is “to inspire my audiences by using movement, humor, and sometimes zaniness as I tell imaginative multicultural folktales updated with attitude.” But that’s not all. I’m known for my interactive way of involving the audience. To quote more, it says, “Get ready to chant, get ready to move, get ready for fun! And watch out, you may be inspired, relive a memory, and learn something new.”

Here are my general categories (appropriate for all ages):

  • Multicultural Folktales – These include stories from around the world updated in my signature “Linda-cized” way.
  • Respect and Other Character Stories – I call this category, “preaching without teaching.” These stories have wonderful “learning” qualities.
  • Our World, Our Hearts – Stories in this category help the listener (and me) feel good! They include stories of love, hope and personal challenge.
  • Anansi the Spider and Other Trickster Stories – Ahhhh, the trickster tales! Sometimes silly, sometimes educational, always fun!
  • African American Legends – I have written a series of stories over the years about people who were important in African American history. They include: Ruby Bridges, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Wilma Rudolph, Madam CJ Walker, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I’m currently working on a new story about Rosa Parks. She is famous for not giving up her seat during the times when buses were segregated – whites in the front, blacks in the back.
  • Hair Raisers – Now I’m sure you are not surprised to hear that I tell ghost stories. Hey, they’re fun to tell. Who wouldn’t like spooking someone out?
  • December Holiday Stories – This is a series of stories that celebrate the values of Christmas, Kwanzaa and Hanukah.

And I have stories developed for students in grades six and above:

  • A Look at Differences – This is the story of The Little Rock Nine, nine African American students who
    bravely integrated an Arkansas high school in 1957
  • The Civil War Experience – These are stories of life on the battlefields, prisons, and an unlikely friendship

Finally some strictly adult material:

  • Mythological Love Stories – This includes the story of Cupid and Psyche.
  • That’s Not the Way I Heard It – Twisted versions of familiar fairy tales
  • Red Light Reflections – My personal stories about life, love and happiness.

Aneeta: Linda, I see that you run Workshops and Residencies on storytelling. How are these different in terms of what you offer?

Linda: My workshops are usually developed with a specific goal in mind. Sometimes I chose topics that interest me, like marketing, public speaking and humor. Other times, I am commissioned to create workshops. This was the case with some of my student workshops on storytelling, making presentations, and creative writing. A complete list is on my web site. Essentially my workshops are hands on learning experiences. I present the fundamentals of the theme, but then the work begins. The participants are giving challenges or exercises to develop. Then they get a chance to present what they have learned.

Aneeta: As you may know, a lot of my readers are from Asia and Africa. What advice would you give them, as storytellers, if they should choose to venture into the world of storytelling?

Linda: I love to read folklore books to get ideas. I also enjoy listening to other tellers, but I am careful not to emulate other storytellers’ style. It took a while for me to figure out what “my style” was, but happily I’ve found a niche. I call it “Storytelling with Attitude” as I mentioned earlier.

My advice? Listen to other tellers. Read folklore books. When you find a story you like, search for several versions of the tale. Read them all, put the books down and let the story settle in your mind. And then get to work. Some folks can work it all out in their heads. Others record their thoughts. I’m a visual learner. I find that I must write out my story ideas. Once I sketch out an idea, I read the piece out loud. Storytelling is an oral art. It is different from writing which can be much more descriptive. I find short sentences to be an effective and natural way of storytelling.

Back to the advice. Now it’s time to practice your stories with friends. Not simply loving friends, but friends who will listen actively and give critical feedback by asking questions to clarify what they did not understand. Now, go back to the drawing board and re-think their comments. Then re-tell it. If you can find friends who also are interested in the art, consider forming a storytelling guild where you come together on a regular basis to support each other. I was the co-founder of ASE: The Chicago Association of Black Storytellers, an affiliate group of the National Association of Black Storytellers. I am also a member of another group called the Fox Valley Storyteller’s Guild. These memberships have been invaluable.

Aneeta: How can my readers contact you?

Linda: I invite readers to check out my web site: www.LindaGorham.com. It’s a great way to get to know more about me and of course it has a link to my email address. I also have a CD called “Common Sense and Uncommon Fun. http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/gorham. It’s full of stories that reinforce good character traits. It’s good too! It won four national awards (including Parents’ Choice). I also have a book I recommend called Telling Stories to Children. I’m a contributor. The book was published by the National Storytelling Network.

 

Aneeta: Linda, thank you very much.

Linda: I enjoyed the interview. Thank you!


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