Occasionally there is a line in a press release worth quoting:
"This is what we have learned: Face to face conversations create hope for the one who talks and for the ones who listen."
That's from a notice about storyteller Elaine Blanchard's recent work with Memphis College of Art students. It sums up what she does about as succinctly as possible.
is so much more than just a storyteller, really. She’s an alternative historian, an artful activist
and, a consistently relevant antidote to the internet outrage du jour. Using unvarnished oral and written histories, she teaches us how to see through other people’s eyes, and takes us on intimate guided tours through hard, rocky places we might not choose to visit on our own. And Blanchard, who's probably best known for her work on the Prison Stories
series, makes us glad we came along for the ride.
In recent years Blanchard has added Emmy winner
and “teacher” to her resume. This weekend a group of MCA students who enrolled in Blanchard’s Creativity and Nonviolence class are will be sharing works of visual art, and giving theatrical form to the many stories they’ve collected from people who live in their assigned neighborhoods. Some of the students have built sculptural pieces from refuse, others have assembled collage, and written poems and songs.
The stories, which are additionally informed by work with an area sociologist and police officer, come from a wide range of multigenerational sources. They follow people whose families have lived in the same neighborhood for generations as well as immigrants, newly arrived in America. There are stories of traditions interwoven with stories of loss and change, for better and worse. And there are stories about communities where people are deeply involved in one another’s lives.
“There was a time when, in Orange Mound a doctor might live next to a sanitation worker,” Blanchard says. “If you needed something, it was in the neighborhood. You could go to the store, or to a movie, or a dance hall, all in the neighborhood. And none of that’s there now.” She counters the historical change with anecdotes about people from the Mound who arrived at their interviews dressed in orange, preparing to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the place they call home.
“There was so much excitement,” Blanchard says.
The art and storytelling events are free and open to the public. Saturday, April 25th
10:00 am at Beulah Missionary Baptist Church on the corner of Douglas and Grand in Orange Mound.
11:30 am at Caritas Village, 2509 Harvard Ave. 38112 in Binghamton.
1:00pm at Lifeline to Success at 1647 Dellwood 38127 in Frayser.