A Storyteller in Brooklyn

(Photo via Our Time Press)

After teaching in the NYC public school system for 30 years, Cynthia Goodison Tompkins found “there’s life after the Department of Education” and joined the National Association of Black Storytellers 17 years ago. Each year members meet with professional storytellers in different cities and study the craft, writes Margo Janet McKenzie in a profile of Tompkins in Our Time Press.

Tompkins also hones her skills at weekly meetings of the Elder’s Writing Workshop at Siloam Presbyterian Church in Bed-Stuy. And she doesn’t only learn about telling stories.

Tompkins credits the local and national workshops with teaching her about the art of telling a good story and little-known facts about Black history. “Did you know that Frederick Douglass used to offer morsels of bread to poor white children in exchange for information about what they learned in school that day? I learned that at a storytelling festival.” She also learned to listen intently and how to receive criticism without giving up writing all together.

Her efforts have paid off. The Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College, under the leadership of Executive Director Brenda Greene, has published two volumes of the works of these elder griots. “They are leaving a legacy rich with powerful images of their lives as women,” says Dr. Greene in the foreword of one book. Tompkins has made five contributions to the two volumes.

Our Time Press goes on to say that Tompkins’ “knees slow her down slightly but that does not dampen her enthusiasm nor her resolve to continue the African tradition of storytelling.”

Read the full story to find out about her next project on an African-American freed slave, and how she’s looking forward to utilizing technology in her craft.

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