Mom Edie Armstrong at Community Table Festival
Franklin Junior High, Des Moines, Oct. 8 at 3:30 pm, free
On Saturday, October 8th, the Des Moines Public Library will host its inaugural Community Table Storytelling and Local Food Festival at three different locations around Des Moines. In addition to food vendors and events, the festival will feature a lineup of renowned storytellers from across the country. One of the performers was Mama Edie Armstrong.
The Chicago resident is a trained speech pathologist and started using storytelling as a tool to engage her students and teach them more about the world around them. Soon, her colleagues and community members recognized her talent and encouraged her to tell her story along the way. Now, Mama Edie travels the world telling stories, singing and spreading love.
small village Before the October 8 performance, she sat down with Mama Edie to discuss language, representation, and how stories tell us about ourselves.
Why is storytelling important?
Well, storytelling is important to me for many reasons. On the one hand, it has a huge potential to connect people: within families, within communities, across communities, across cultures, internationally and what have you. Because all of us have nearly the same basic human desires, needs, joys and sorrows. As long as people’s hearts and minds are open to it, to the stories of people from another culture, another part of the world, or another religion, then they can get something wonderful out of anyone’s story. Storytelling can remind us that we all have a light side and allow ourselves to let it shine, no matter what others say.
That’s how I really started telling stories. I did prose and poetry in intercollegiate competitions when I went to Northern Illinois University, and I also became a member of the Black Theater. I wrote and did something similar in college, and I excelled in intercollegiate competitions across the country. But then, when I became a speech and language pathologist, I worked for a while in a hospital that treated stroke patients, where storytelling also came in handy. Especially for people who may suffer from memory loss or loss of language symbols due to injury or brain damage. Then I was able to use storytelling, talking about their family members, trying to help them recall things like that.
So on a therapeutic level, you know, storytelling is useful for people who are actually dealing with certain medical conditions like stroke and traumatic brain injury. But storytelling can also be therapeutic in helping people deal with some of the propaganda they’ve been bombarded by generations, including negative images and perceptions of who they are.
See an amazing lineup of professional storytellers like Mama Edie Armstrong at the Community Table: Storytelling and Local Food Festival at Franklin Avenue Library and the surrounding area on Saturday, October 8. Learn more about the event: https://t.co/d8SrHQJSHZ pic.twitter.com/HK6RZ3uhU0
— Des Moines Public Library (@dmpl) September 27, 2022
What stories did you wish someone had told you when you were a child?
I wish someone could tell me a true story about life in Africa. So that I can have something to fight against these Tarzan images I have. It’s been an interesting journey through the 50s for many of us trying to adjust to being a child of African descent. And I think the experience that probably did more damage than anything was the making of the Tarzan movie. Because when we look at Tarzan, the first thing we see in Tarzan movies is that only Europeans have good lighting so you can see their features. Because their characteristics are important. Africans in movies, or people representing Africans, often have their faces covered, or they have war paint or something like that. But obviously, their faces, what their faces look like, don’t matter. That’s, you know, it’s a visual thing that can be expressed without words.
Then if you’re looking at people’s interactions and you think of the idea that’s being promoted that Africans aren’t smart enough to gather themselves when they have a problem, solve their own problems among their own elders and others Leaders, they had to wait for a little white boy raised by monkeys to save the world. How can you be proud of this? If that’s all you know about Africa, who would be proud to be African? It wasn’t until I went to college that I started getting in touch with people from the African continent. I mean, before this, of course I knew the images in the Tarzan movie weren’t real, but they did damage.
Your story travels all over the world. Can you tell us one of your favorite travel stories?
Yes, I have two, but I can keep them short. The first one I should mention, is my first trip to Africa. This was my first trip to Ghana in 1996. It was amazing. very exciting. First, landing at the airport, looking out the window and seeing almost nothing but black people around, was absolutely overwhelming. From a different perspective, it’s a culture shock. The closest I got to this was when I went to Trinidad and it was the same thing. I was like, “Wow, look at all the black people!”
You know, you get this information, you’re in the minority. So you know, it wasn’t until much later that I realized that while we may be considered a minority in this country, we are certainly not a minority in the world. So, this took me by surprise. When I get off the plane, walk through the airport, and even walk out, it makes me feel warm and I feel at home. There are some scents I know I haven’t smelled before, but they’re a little familiar. Seeing the way people walk, the way they talk, they talk with their hands. It’s just, I mean, I’m like, “You’re mine!” So to feel that connection, to actually step foot in this land that I’ve heard a lot about, most of my ancestors — of course, You know, growing up in America, you know, I call us potpourriers, a little bit of this, a little bit of that. You know, we have Cherokee Seminole and Blackfoot Native American ancestry on my dad’s side, Italian on my mom’s side, who knows what else — but I feel pretty comfortable. It was an amazing, amazing experience.
Then I experienced the African sky for the first time. It’s amazing, it’s amazing, it’s amazing.This sparked a show I wrote called african sky. And you won’t believe I’m over Ghaha just writing these notes for this. I’m so touched, things are just coming out, you know, thoughts and ideas just to respond to the sky, and as the morning comes, to hear the sound of Africa waking up. The crickets and the birds chirping, you know, starting to crescendo, up, up, for the little creatures running through the bushes, it’s amazing. I feel like I have my own personal choreography of my life in Africa, you know, it all just fits me in that moment.So I ended up back in Chicago, don’t you believe that within the same week I got a call from the Adler Planetarium to tell me they had just held a show called African sky. and asked me, “Do you think you could organize a show about our show called african sky? ‘ I thought, ‘I just wrote an article called African sky.“
What do you think makes a good storyteller?
I think the first thing is if I can feel from the storyteller that the story is important to the storyteller. This is the first thing. If I feel like storytellers are telling stories, just to tell stories, you know, “I’m being paid to tell a story about X, Y, and Z. Well, I’m going to tell a story about X, Y, and Z. A story of Y and Z.” That might be a good story. It might be an engaging story, but unless the storyteller really feels connected to the story in some way, it doesn’t play out the same way. Not for me anyway. I can tell when they feel connected to it and when they don’t. So, if I feel that the storyteller is connected to the story, then it welcomes me into that space that also feels connected to the story and the characters involved.
One more thing for me, I don’t think I might say it takes too much from my point of view, but the storyteller allows him or herself to open up about his emotions. I also work as a storytelling coach. One of the things I said to one of my clients a while ago, she was telling her story, and she’s a very starter of storytelling. She’s telling her story and the storyline is interesting, but I just can’t feel it happening. When she gives these descriptions, the description is rich in language, but unless I have a good imagination, I don’t see it.
So I asked her, and I said, “Okay, okay, wait a minute. This lady you’re describing to us now, in this beautiful scene that you’re describing, are you there?” She said, “What do you mean? ?” I said, “Are you there? Did you put yourself in that scene? Can you cut out those flowers if you close your eyes? Can you see the vibrancy of your colors? Can you see Did that bird take off there? Are you there?” She said, “Well, I don’t think so.” I said, “You have to go there.”
in the story. You can speak for the character, but you must be a witness. You have to be there so you can smell and feel and taste and see the miracle you want us to smell and feel and taste. We want to do it. If you don’t understand, we won’t be so good. So yeah, the vocal variation, the highs and the lows, the loudness and the softness, all of those things matter. But to be able to bring the audience into the story, you know, these are some of the elements of being a good storyteller.
What can we expect from your performance at the Des Moines Public Library?
The performance will be a bilingual performance. So I will do something in English and Spanish. For me, that means the story I’m telling will be done – sometimes people ask me to do the whole thing in Spanish first and then the whole thing in English. I don’t like to do that. Because at that point someone was left out, you know, I don’t want anyone to feel left out when you go along the way. So I might start, like, “Había una vez una familia de ratoncitasonce upon a time there was a family of little mice, “and then I’d go back and forth, you know. Some might start in English, or maybe start in Spanish. And then I’ll say it again in another language. In fact, the story was called barking mousethat’s what I’ll definitely do, it’s one of my favorites.
Catch Mama Edie Armstrong at Franklin Junior High on Oct. 8 at 3:30 p.m. Check out the full festival schedule here.