Artist Insight - Interview with Linda Goss Master Storyteller
Mama Linda Goss - Master Storyteller
Tell us what inspired you to become a storyteller?
I can honestly say I was raised on fried apples, pinto beans, cornbread and storytelling. I grew up in a storytelling family rooted in the Southern tradition. I was born in 1947 and raised in Alcoa, TN. ALCOA is an acronym for The Aluminum Company of America and my factory town is at the Foothills of the Smoky Mountains. ALCOA built the town and brought in Black folks from surrounding areas - Alabama, Mississippi, Middle Tennessee, and Georgia for example. My mother came from Middle Tennessee and she was one of a family of fourteen children (eleven survived). They were always making up stories and my momma passed these stories along to the rest of the family. She was a public school teacher and she taught me to play party chants and stories she heard from her students. My mother was also a public speaker and orator, and she used stories and proverbs in her speeches. Because of her influence I played party chants and told stories in the school yard of my segregated school as a child.
My father was born in Alabama and he passed on to me the idea of rhythm and scatting and other Black vocal techniques. My daddy could mimic any bird he heard and use words to make rhythm. He loved jazz and blues. My granddaddy Murphy, my father’s father, told me animal tales and stories about living through hard times in Alabama. My momma’s brother, Uncle Buster, was the historian. Not just for my family but for the whole town. As a child, this was an enthralling experience to be surrounded by all this knowledge of storytelling.
What is unique about African American Storytelling?
A conventional definition of storytelling would highlight the spoken performance of a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Storytelling in the African-American tradition includes these elements but goes further to encompass singing, call-and-response, percussion, and even dance. It’s never just about the words. It’s about the audience listening to the sounds and rhythms, responding, and becoming part of the story themselves.
How has storytelling played a role in your life?
Storytelling has played an essential role in my life. Storytelling is my life. Storytelling is the seed, the root of my existence. I bear witness to the stories that recall the struggles and the triumphs of my people. I am called Mama Linda by many who see me as the keeper of the stories. I feel my role is to listen to everyone’s story. I receive emails, texts, letters, phone calls and visits from people from all over the country who they tell me their stories. I use storytelling as a frame in my work as an author, curator, teacher, community folklorist and community activist. I have a great memory of my Granddaddy Murphy who told me in my youth that I was ringing my bells and telling stories. He gave me his bugle and said, “You are waking up the people like I once did.” That is my life’s work to wake up the people, to empower them to recall and reclaim their stories.
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