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"To Tell A Tale." Explanation and Analysis: (2020)

Updated: Apr 19, 2022

“To Tell A Tale,” is birthed out of a place of superstition, survival, and imagination. These superstitions have longed served the African Diaspora since the beginning of time, in which these unwritten rules have aided in creating stories that continuously make their way from one generation to the next. I chose to create stories based on these superstitions as a way to challenge myself as a storyteller, and in some way connect with those family members/ancestors who have passed these rules along. This project was an opportunity for me to reflect on family history, the Diaspora, and the endless creativity and power that these superstitions hold. Growing up having heard these tales/rules, I felt as if I was in a time machine by revisiting them, and remembering the commentary that came with explaining them. Each story contains some southern elements, in which the dialect and description of the scenery hints at another time and place that is being explored. These southern elements make sense given that, many of the people that moved with these stories came from the south or are still living in the south. While I did not want to provide a theoretical explanation for these accounts, given how much I value them and find them to be very sacred and not up for unpacking through colonized and institutionalized language; I think pointing out some connections to the ephemeral might be helpful to those that don’t understand the impact of these superstitions.

In thinking about what governs us and what helps us in maintaining “order,” I feel as if these superstitions do just that. They embrace the unconventional and unexplainable as a way to guide those who are told about them. With these superstitions having their roots in oral storytelling, they continue to be passed down in this same fashion. This is just one of the many connections to the ephemeral in which, the storyteller may disappear, but their presence as well as the story remains.

One of the theoretical texts I used to help format these stories was Fred Moten’s account of Aunt Hester’s scream in his book, “In the Break.” There’s a breakdown of the song “Protest,” where he includes Abbey Lincoln’s response to the creation of the song in which she says, “I just want to be of use to my ancestors/It’s holy work and it’s dangerous not to know that because you could die like an animal down.” I consider these tales to be that holy work, in which I partake in the passing down of these stories to the next generation.

In thinking about this holy work more, I thought back to a quote mentioned by Avery Gordon who states, “Haunting is a constituent element of modern social life. It is neither pre- modern superstition nor individual psychosis; it is a generalizable social phenomenon of great import. To study social life one must confront the ghostly aspects of it” (Pg. 7). With many of these of superstitions circulating throughout the African Diaspora long before my birth and my mother’s, and her mother’s, and so forth, I do not believe these notion that hauntings are not pre-modern. I believe they speak to a time long before comprehension, and have since survived the forced movement of people, separation of communities, internalization of new languages and so forth. These ghostly aspects of living in a colonialized world as an 'othered' person, continues to raise the question on is the past really past? And if not, how much further should I look back to find answers for right now? I'm hoping that in telling a tales from a time much older than we, that we find those answers that we seek and be able to answer more as we go.

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