Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A Storyteller's Tale: Visit with TAHIRA

Delaware Arts Info sat down for a chat with local storyteller TAHIRA to discover more about her craft and how she shares her amazing gift with others. Check out our interview below...

TAHIRA is a storyteller, poet, vocalist and percussionist with a bachelor's degree from Temple University's School of Communication and Theatre. Whether performing her original works or her vast repertoire of stories from the African oral tradition, she brings to her audience messages of courage, hope and spiritual strength. An advocate of using the arts to bring about social change, TAHIRA says: "My mission is to shed light in dark places to reveal the brilliance of human spirit."

*How long have you been performing? How did you get your start? Where do you regularly perform?
In 1993, I was attending a Kwanzaa program at the Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia with my daughter who at the time was a toddler.  Charlotte Blake Alston, a renowned national storyteller, was performing.  It was a captivating performance and it reminded me of the Kwanzaa programs I organized in my high school days. After speaking with Charlotte after the performance she told me about a newly formed organization called Keepers Of The Culture (KOTC).  Soon after I joined KOTC where I was mentored and nurtured as a storyteller by Charlotte and Caroliese Frink Reed.

By 1996, I had quit my job as a trainer in the financial service industry and pursued storytelling as a full-time career.  A short time later, I became president of KOTC, an affiliate of the National Association of Black Storytellers, which catapulted me on the national storytelling platform where my study continued under the guidance of renowned storytellers such as Baba Jamal Koram, Mother Mary Carter Smith and Linda Goss.  Soon I was performing at festivals, conferences, schools, libraries, and community centers across the country.

Today, my work continues in those venues and has also spread to behavioral health institutions and detention centers as I found my niche developing programs tailored for those populations.  In 2000, I received the Fellowship Award for Outstanding Contribution in Oral Literature from the Delaware Division of the Arts, which led to me successfully obtaining spots on the artist’s rosters within art organizations across the country.

*Where do your stories come from? Where do you find inspiration for your content?
Many of the stories come from the African Diaspora with a particular focus on West African stories.  Additionally, I perform some original works.  My content is inspired by my childhood where I was instructed by my father to use my gifts to positively impact my community and encouraged by my mother to follow my dreams. Stories that resonate with me are those that empower my audience to think critically, choose wisely and believe fervently in their ability to succeed.

*What do you love most about your craft? What do you find most challenging?
After 20 years as a professional storyteller, it still blows me away how people are profoundly affected by the stories I tell.  Recently in my Women Word Wisdom workshop that I am conducting at the Walnut Street YMCA, a participant tearfully recounted to me how the story I told reaffirmed for her the need for her to spend more time on her own personal development. She confessed that she had been looking for some direction on how channel her creativity in a positive manner and my workshop gave her that direction.

The most challenging thing in my work is getting people to understand that storytelling is not frivolous entertainment for children.  Storytelling can be a catalyst for social change.  It is a powerful tool to inform, empower and heal.

*This might be a silly question, but is there a difference between poetry and spoken-word performances? If so, what is that?
Not a silly question at all!  The biggest difference: Spoken word is a performance-based art form.  Gil Scott Heron and the Last Poets are some of the legends that popularized this style of performance poetry, which laid the foundation for the Hip-Hop movement.

*What is your favorite poem or writer/poet that has influenced you or that you like to draw from for inspiration or inner strength?
Let me first tell you my favorite story as I am a storyteller first and foremost.  The story of Sudiata, the real Lion King, is my favorite because it tells of a child who is prophesized to be great; but when born with a physical affliction was ridiculed and berated.  He not only overcame his physical limitations but rose to be a great ruler of the Mali Empire.  It is a story many can draw inspiration, strength and wisdom from because it speaks to being triumphant in the face of great adversity.  A message any human being can relate to!

As for poetry, I love Paul Laurence Dunbar because my father used to read his poems to me as a child.  The poem Mother to Son is my favorite.  The lesson of determination and tenacity that this poem conveys is powerful.  I tend to be drawn to messages of hope and resiliency.

*You have a current performance program entitled "Women Word Wisdom." Tell us about that program and why you created it. Is there anyone else involved in the program? Where and when can we experience this program?
An intergenerational group of females are brought together to engage in a storytelling project aimed at promoting healthy interpersonal relationships.  Storytelling is used as a catalyst for examining and discussing topics such as self-esteem, safety in relationships and developing support systems.  This free program is sponsored by the Walnut Street YMCA under the direction K. El-Shabazz and is held on Thursdays from 6:00-7:00pm until October 10.

*What is your best advice for young poets and spoken-word artists who want to develop their talents?
Be a perpetual student of your craft.  There is always more to learn.  Find a seasoned artist in your craft to mentor you and keep you grounded and focused.  The work you do is bigger than you.  It is about using your gift to be of service to your community.

*Where is the best place for Wilmingtonians to find open mic poetry or spoken word venues to discover or perform themselves?
To be honest, I do not know of any venue in Wilmington that is offering open mic on a consistent basis.

*What aspects of the Wilmington/Delaware arts scene do you love the most? Where do you feel there should be improvement?
What I love most about the Wilmington/Delaware arts scene is that it has that small town feel.  People are warm and encouraging.  What could be improved upon is increasing support.  Countless times I have been to venues which are presenting high-quality art programming to an almost empty audience.  Support the arts!

See http://www.angelfire.com/de/TAHIRA.


  1. Wonderful words woven on the crest of waters crossed by ancestors/activists/and artists who understand the potency and timelessness of what we do. Asante sana for your perspectives TAHIRA and thank you for what you do Michelle

  2. Beautiful summary of who you are and from whence you came. I am honored to know you. Asante Sana for being an inspiration to so many and for showing our children the power of a creative mind.