Salem Pioneer Cemetery

On May 14th, I will be doing a living history portrayal of Hiram Gorham at Salem Pioneer Cemetery for the Oregon Black Pioneers.  Hiram was an enslaved man who served in the Union Army as a Teamster, and moved to Oregon after the Civil War.  Please see the link below for more information.

Oregon Black Pioneers Masrker at Salem Pioneer Cemetery

Oregon Black Pioneers Marker at Salem Pioneer Cemetery

Hiram Gorham Headstone

Hiram Gorham Headstone

29 Days of Stories!

Now that January has come to a close, it is time to get ready for Black History Month 2016. While I agree that Black History should be taught year round, this month highlights the sometimes forgotten contributions by African-Americans. However, storytelling is a way in which we can highlight those contributions as well as educate others about Black History. With stories, we have the opportunity to connect cultures and build bridges to increase awareness as well as promote diversity. And as the African proverb says, “Not to know is bad, but not to want to know is even worse”. So with that, I’m looking forward to sharing stories again this year during Black History Month for Multnomah County Libraries throughout the greater Portland Metro area. Stay tuned for more updates!

Reflections of a Storytelling Journey

Standing in front of the Pompey Museum in Nassau, Bahamas December 2015

Standing in front of the Pompey Museum in Nassau, Bahamas December 2015

As I reflect back on my year of storytelling in 2015, I realize that it has been a great one from beginning to end. My highlights include telling at the Oregon Historical Society for Oregon Statehood Day, being featured at the Art of The Story Festival, telling for the Summer Reading Program with Chemeketa County Library System, and presenting at the City Club of Portland.

Most recently, on a trip abroad I had the opportunity to visit the Pompey Museum of Slavery and History in the Bahamas. What great way to close out 2015 than to learn more about the history of the Bahamas, its people, and their stories. Located on the busy and poplar Bay Street in Nassau, the museum is hard to miss with its bright exterior of pink and white bricks. The Pompey Museum is housed in a structure known as the Vendue House, which was once used as a mart to auction slaves. The name of the museum comes from one of the slaves who led a successful revolt against his master in the Bahamas. The museum houses a series of murals of texts with significant historical facts and happenings relating to the people of the Bahamas.

As I walked around the museum and filled my head with knowledge, I could not help but thinking that I have heard this story before. It is a similar one to the Africans who were brought Virginia, the Carolinas, and off the coast of Georgia. Many of the same types of harsh treatments, conditions, and punishments were identical.  And despite the conditions, the displaced Africans found a way to survive and maintain their culture as well as traditions. One of which is storytelling. And incidentally, one of the folk characters of Bahamian stories is a trickster called Ber Bookie or Ber Rabbie. This character is very similar to Brer Rabbit from the African American South. That being said, when I inquired about Ber Bookie, it brought a smile to the guide who replied, “Yes, those old stories continue to be passed down”.

Now admittedly, before this excursion to the Bahamas, I knew very little about its history, or people even in relation to stories. However, in retrospect I have gained a better appreciation of the culture, region, and its proximity to our country. And with the Bahamas boasting 700 islands to explore, there are surely just as many stories to tell if not more; so as the saying goes, “have stories, will travel”.

Shh . . . Just Listen

It has been said by many, that in order to be a good storyteller, one must also be a good listener. Or as a colleague of mine put it, “storytelling is the art of listening”. Every year the day after Thanksgiving is known as Black Friday where retailers give huge discounts on merchandise for the largest shopping day of the holiday season. Many shoppers camp out 2 – 3 days in advance in hopes of getting the best bargains first thing that morning. We have all heard the horror stories of retailers running out of merchandise, people getting trampled and fights breaking out among customers. And even worse, many employees have lost their lives as a result of being crushed by a mad rush of shoppers.

However, if this tale of terror is not appealing to you, then perhaps participating in the StoryCorps National Day of Listening is a better alternative. It also takes place the day after thanksgiving and is an opportunity to get a “real bargain” by recording a loved one and their story. There is an African proverb which says, “A person is only dead if they are forgotten”. By recording a family member, we make sure that their voices are always heard and they are never forgotten as we engage in the art of listening.

Last year, at the urging of a colleague who had recently lost her father, I was encouraged to participate in the National Day of Listening. This could not have been at a better time because my family always gathers the day after Thanksgiving to celebrate the holiday. So, at the gathering I took the opportunity to record several family members and their stories. What I came away with, was a better appreciation of my siblings, my parents, and being in a large family with so many rich stories. I was simply overwhelmed with the stories that poured out. For example, some of us grew up in North Carolina whereas the majority was raised in Virginia. We all shared a strong sense of family values instilled in us by our parents. And we all realized the importance of gathering annually at the Galloway Family Reunion. Additionally, there were the childhood tales of mischief and misadventure that brought on laughter and even more heartfelt memories.

Looking back a year later, I am so fortunate to have taken the opportunity to record my family because one of my relatives I interviewed is no longer with us. As a matter of fact, that was the last time I heard their voice. You see they became an ancestor just a few months later. Talk about timing! Whether you record your relative for five minutes, fifteen, or fifty it is definitely worth it.

And given the technology we have today, participating in the National Day of Listening is very practical. Whether one uses a smart phone, digital recorder, or other device, it is easy to simply sit, talk, and just listen.

For more information go to:

Wisdom of the Elders

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend the Wisdom of the Elders 10th Annual Storytelling Festival in Portland, OR and it was such a great cultural experience. Being a first time attendee, I was not quite sure what to expect. Needless to say, I was not disappointed. From the moment I walked in, I felt the spirit of stories and their importance to the community. It was quite refreshing and eye-opening to see so many different tribes represented in the program and performing. The night began with drumming and an opening prayer followed by stories from Emerging Native American Storytellers. The stories ranged from creation stories to pourquoi & trickster tales (my favorite)!

After a brief intermission, the spirit of telling called for an unscheduled performance from a teller in the audience. She told a story of her grandmother and the challenges she faced in preserving the language and culture of her tribe. This was one of the more moving components of the festival as she played the drum while singing a tribute to her ancestor. Finishing up the evening of telling were two seasoned tellers, Toby Joseph who told insightful personal stories and Woodrow Morrison who gave us a short version of story he usually takes 7 days to tell! Wow!

And to end the evening, we saw a glimpse of the future when a praise song was performed by two young tellers of the next generation.

What I left with was a greater appreciation of Native American Storytelling and its continued importance in preserving the Native American culture and history here in the Pacific Northwest.


With the school year beginning, I find it necessary to go back to basics. By basics, I mean returning to my roots as a teller of African & African American folktales. That being said, I recall the first storytelling workshop I ever attended by master storyteller, Jackie Torrence. She was known for her Appalachian Jack Tales, Brer Rabbit Stories, and ‘Jump Tales’. Jump tales are suspenseful stories wherein the teller draws in the listener and then at its climax, causes the listener to JUMP in fright. Though she is no longer with us, she still is relevant to the storytelling world and remains a huge influence on me and the way in which I tell stories.

Over the years, to improve and grow as a teller, I have taken many workshops on a variety of storytelling topics such as cultural, healing, historical, and personal stories. However, I always refer to this first workshop because it established a solid foundation for me to build my craft. The knowledge I gained from her was invaluable and here are six of the tips she passed along. So enjoy and take notes!

  • To be a good storyteller one must be a good listener – Go to festivals, conferences, story swaps, meetings, etc. and listen to the tellers. See what works for them and how they connect to the listener using their voice, language, sound effects, props, word choice, music, etc.
  • Make the story fit me and not someone else – Tell stories through your distinctive style and voice. Not everyone is the same type of teller. There is no set model one has to fit in order to be a storyteller.
  •  Only tell stories you like – Don’t tell a story just because it is popular or you feel pressured by peers and colleagues to do so. The story may simply not be for you.
  •  Make people visualize the story – Paint mental images of your story’s characters so that the listener can see what is happening. The listener needs something they can connect with in the story or else they will be lost.
  •  Know your audience – Learn how to read your audience and have material suitable for them. Your repertoire needs to have enough stories so that you can accommodate different groups of listeners. Don’t use the wrong story for the wrong group, i.e. don’t use children’s stories for adults.
  •  Read! Read! Read! And Practice! Make sure you have gained everything you need from reading of a story before you perform the tale. The reading may take twenty minutes or twenty years. Words and phrases may have to be changed in order to be current with the times. Give easy definitions by putting the right pictures and words together.

Now this not the only advice she shared, but these six tips are the ones which I find the most relevant and continue to be part of my routine when preparing new material. So, with that in mind, I say class dismissed or as Jackie would put it, “And … that’s … the … end … of … that!”

Find out more about Jackie Torrence at

Chetter Galloway

Storyteller on a Mission

One can define a mission statement as specifying the goals and objectives in their chosen field or profession.  So, what is my mission statement?  It is to enlighten, enrich, and educate others about African American cultural traditions through the art of storytelling.

Now that the Summer Reading Program has concluded, I can reflect on the many opportunities I had to fulfill my mission statement.  As I toured the greater Salem area throughout the Chemeketa Cooperative Library System, I was thrilled at the audience response to the folklore and folktales in my program.  From the Dallas Public Library to Mt. Angel, the venues were well attended and the audiences’ were eager with anticipation to hear stories or as a colleague puts it, “listen with a juicy face”.

This eagerness to listen excited me even more than usual because of the library locations. Each of the eleven locations I visited was in a rural community where typically there is a lack of exposure to the arts. Having grown up in a small town, an important part of my mission is to return to rural areas and use storytelling (specifically African American storytelling) to bridge cultures and connect with the community.

The stories I told throughout the Summer Reading Program were well received by a variety of audiences.  As a result, the listeners were open for audience participation as well as volunteering to join me on stage to tell a story. And after each performance there were always questions.  For example, I was asked several times about my cow tail switch, my African clothing, the Djembe drum, and of course how I made the sound effects I used.   

In conclusion, this tells me that the listener’s interest was aroused and they wanted more . . . more information, more knowledge, more stories.    And as the saying goes, “always leave them wanting more”.  Mission Accomplished.

The End

Chetter Galloway

Real Heroes Read!

My first Summer Reading Program in Dallas, Oregon was a great success. The turnout was wonderful and the audience was very appreciative. The venue was not at the downtown library but instead at the Dallas City Park. We could not have asked for a better day to tell stories outside. Initially there was a bit of overcast and a couple of sprinkles, but it did not last long. I will have the opportunity to visit with the Dallas Public Library again in the fall. Stay tuned for more details. Here are a few pictures from the performance. – Chetter Galloway

Real Heroes Read!

Real Heroes Read!

Real Heroes Read!