The National Association of Black Storytellers Festival will be in Wichita from Nov. 8-12. Wichita Griots Courtesy
The National Association of Black Storytellers Festival will be in Wichita from Nov. 8-12. Wichita Griots Courtesy

Arts & Culture

National storytelling festival comes to Wichita for first time

By Amy Geizler-Jones

Eagle correspondent

November 01, 2017 04:04 PM

Storytelling, African dance and drumming, along with spirituals, will be featured during a free concert Wednesday, Nov. 8, that kicks off the 35th annual National Association of Black Storytellers Festival.

The event is happening for the first time in Wichita Nov. 8-12 at the Wichita Marriott, 9100 E. Corporate Hills Drive.

“It’ll be a wonderful celebration of stories that go so deep,” said Jean Pouncil-Burton, founder of the Wichita Griots, a 12-member group of storytellers that is hosting the festival.

Created in 1998 when Pouncil-Burton retired from a career as a librarian, the Wichita Griots is one of 15 affiliates of the national association.

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The kickoff concert is a way to showcase the talent and activities of the host affiliate to both festival participants and to the local community, Pouncil-Burton said. Past festivals have drawn more than 400 storytellers and others interested in the spoken word.

In addition to the Griots, the Nov. 8 concert will feature performances by a children’s group known as Wahoto, the drum line from Wichita’s Buckner Performing Arts Magnet Elementary School, and ARISE, a local choral ensemble that specializes in Negro spirituals. Wahoto, which means children in Swahili, is a group of local children who’ve studied African dance and drumming during the Griots’ annual, week-long summer enrichment camp, Pouncil-Burton said.

As part of its mission to preserve the art of storytelling and the spoken word, the Griots often visit schools and other organizations to tell stories, teach character education and promote literacy, Pouncil-Burton said. The Griots also hold storytelling workshops throughout the year.

“We tell a number of stories from folk tales to ghost stories to historical stories,” she said. “We inform, educate, inspire, motivate, uplift and heal with our stories.”

Storytelling, Pouncil-Burton added, has the ability to create an appreciation and understanding of other cultures.

Performances of stories, drumming, dance and even tall tales by festival participants will continue with four concerts, open to the public, on the evenings of Nov. 9, 10 and 11, and the morning of Nov. 12.

Admission for those concerts is $15 for adults and $5 for those ages 18 and younger. Master storytellers and drummers who will be featured at the festival include Jeremie Meadows, a high school senior from Georgia; Kunama Mtendaji, a drummer from Missouri who focuses on drumming and dance styles from Senegal, Gambia, Guinea and Ivory Coast; and Teju the Storyteller, who was the first-place winner of the first Liar’s Contest the association hosted.

The festival helps promote the spoken word and helps storytellers perfect their creative craft through various workshops. One popular event is the tall tales contest, previously known as the Liar’s Contest, which allows both adults and young storytellers to compete at telling the most outlandish yarns.

“They’ll get in a mood and a groove and they’ll tell some stories,” said Melody McCray-Miller, a Wichita Griots member and the local festival director, who has attended previous national festivals.

This year’s festival theme is “The African American Story: From Chains to Wings,” and the Wichita Griots have included a tour for festival participants that will showcase Wichita’s African-American heritage through visits to The Kansas African American Museum, the site of the Dockum Sit-In, and the Ulrich Museum of Art at Wichita State, which holds a number of works by Kansas native and prominent artist Gordon Parks.

Walk-in registrations will be accepted to attend the entire festival or one-day workshops, said McCray-Miller.

A complete festival schedule, along with registration fees, can be found at

Matt Riedl: 316-268-6660, @RiedlMatt

An Evening of the Arts

When: 7-9 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 8

Where: Wichita Marriott Grand Ballroom, 9100 E. Corporate Hills Drive, Wichita

Admission: Free

What: A free kickoff concert of the 35 th annual National Association of Black Storytellers festival, happening for the first time in Wichita Nov. 8-12. It will feature storytelling and performances by the Wichita Griots, along with drumming, dancing and spirituals by other local performers. Additional concerts by national storytellers are scheduled for 7:45 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 9; 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 10; 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 11; and 9:30 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 12. Admission for the Nov. 9-12 concerts is $15 adults, $5 for ages 18 and younger.