ST. LOUIS, Mo.– Storyteller Bobby Norfolk celebrates Black History Month every month.
He and more than two dozen other raconteurs will be sharing tales at the 2015 St. Louis Storytelling Festival, April 30 to May 2.
Norfolk brings to life “stories that relate to social justice in a way that is entertaining for all ages, ” said Lisa Overholser, festival director and community arts specialist for University of Missouri Extension, which is sponsoring the three-day event.
Norfolk’s stories didn’t always roll off the tongue easily. As a child growing up in a poor St. Louis neighborhood, he stuttered. Role models helped him overcome the stutter through theater and storytelling.
Now he dances and prances across the stage, enunciating sharply and punctuating his sentences with whistles and popping sounds. He takes the listener on a silly and serious ride through history.
Norfolk first appeared at the festival more than 25 years ago. He worked as a park ranger at the St. Louis Arch by day and in comedy clubs by night before becoming a TV show host and book author.
He earned three Emmy Awards as host of the CBS television show “Gator Tales.” He wrote eight award-winning children’s books. He now travels the world, sharing stories of black Americans who made their mark. He and his storyteller wife, Sherry, also serve on the festival’s advisory board.
“Storytelling is such a versatile art form since it gives me the opportunity to combine poetry, humor and theater into my own special package,” he says.
In one show, Norfolk tells the story of Henry “Box” Brown, who stowed away in a wooden box. He travels north to earn money to buy back the freedom of his wife and children. Norfolk also shares through his stories the trials and tribulations of the only black man to travel with Lewis and Clark on their expedition.
He blends story, dance and music to tell of musicians Scott Joplin and Duke Ellington. He takes on the role of some of Missouri’s famous blacks such as inventor George Washington Carver, educator James Milton Turner and writer Langston Hughes, a leader of the Harlem Renaissance.
“The human brain is hard-wired for story. Once you know a person’s story, it is easier to understand and relate to them,” he says.
More than 20 regional and six featured storytellers gather during the annual three-day festival. Coordinated by the MU Extension Community Arts Program, in partnership with groups throughout the St. Louis area, this free cultural event is offered at libraries, parks and outreach sites. The Grand Finale on May 2 at the Touhill Performing Arts Center on the University of Missouri-St. Louis campus also is free to the public.
Learn more about Bobby Norfolk at http://folktale.com.