Baltimore resident Linda Goss, founder of the National Black Storytellers' Association, is one of the National Heritage Fellows for 2019.
Baltimore resident Linda Goss, founder of the National Black Storytellers' Association, is one of the National Heritage Fellows for 2019.

Like so many of us, storyteller Linda Goss grew up listening to her family’s stories, particular those of her grandfather where she grew up in rural Tennessee.

“As they say, I was born and raised in it! I was raised on pinto beans, fried apples, cornbread, and storytelling,” Goss said in her NEA podcast. “I come from a big storytelling family. My mother had a large family, it was 14 children, of which 11 survived. Now my father only had one brother, who died very young. But his father, my granddaddy, was a wonderful storyteller. So I grew up in it. And in the town I’m from it’s full of just interesting characters. The stories just pop out at you.”

Goss founded the Association for Black Storytellers in 1984 in Philadelphia, which became the National Association of Black Storytellers (NABS). In 1982, Mother Mary Carter Smith (1919-2007) and Goss, affectionately known as “Mama Linda,” founded the “In the Tradition…: Annual National Black Storytelling Festival and Conference” in Baltimore.

Goss and Carter had an understanding of the dire need “to institute an organizational structure to perpetuate African diasporic storytelling.”

For nearly the past four decades, Goss has made sure to keep the tradition of storytelling alive and brings it to people throughout the country and the world, as the storyteller ambassador for the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum and in her position as Storyteller in Residence at the Peale Center in Baltimore.

“The first festival was held in Baltimore at Morgan State University in 1983,” Goss said. “We travel to a different city each year throughout the United States, however, every 10 years we come back home to Baltimore. We will be in Montgomery Alabama Nov. 6-10. We will be back in Baltimore in 2022 to celebrate our 40th festival.

The National Heritage Fellows, awarded annually in September, is the highest honor bestowed on artists whose contribution to folklore and the traditional arts and crafts in the country has reached the point of excellence. This year’s ceremony will be held Sept. 18 with a free concert on Sept. 20.

“I am honored and appreciative to be one of NEA’s National Heritage Fellows for 2019 in storytelling,” Goss said. “I have been telling stories most of my 72 years standing on the shoulders of my ancestors and leaning on the ever loving arms of my elders. This Fellowship recognizes the oral traditions Granddaddy Murphy, my momma and daddy, and Uncle Buster passed on down to me. I will continue to share this fellowship and my stories with the Baltimore community and beyond.”

Other Heritage fellows this year include Dan Ansotegui, Basque musician and tradition bearer from Boise, Idaho; Grant Bulltail, Crow storyteller from Crow Agency, Montana; James F. Jackson, leatherworker from Sheridan, Wyoming; Balla Kouyaté, balafon player and djeli from Medford, Massachusetts; Josephine Lobato, Spanish colcha embroiderer from Westminster, Colorado; Rich Smoker, decoy carver from Marion Station, Maryland; Las Tesoros de San Antonio—Beatriz (La Paloma del Norte) Llamas and Blanquita (Blanca Rosa) Rodríguez, Tejano singers from San Antonio; and Bob Fulcher, folklorist and state park manager from Clinton, Tennessee.

Fulcher is the recipient of the 2019 Bess Lomax Hawes National Heritage Fellowship in recognition of an individual who has made a significant contribution to the preservation and awareness of cultural heritage.

The National Endowment for the Arts has honored American master folk and traditional artists with the National Heritage Fellowship Since 1982. The lifetime achievement award recognizes the ways these individuals demonstrate and reflect living cultural heritage and their efforts to share that knowledge.

The National Heritage Fellowships Awards Ceremony will honor the 2019 National Heritage Fellows at a free awards ceremony, which will include a presentation of medals and short remarks by the recipients.

Hosted by the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, the ceremony will open with a performance by Sheila Kay Adams, ballad singer, musician, storyteller and 2013 National Heritage Fellow, and will be followed by a reception on Wednesday, Sept. 18 from 5:30 p.m.-6:30 p.m. The ceremony will be held at Library of Congress’s Coolidge Auditorium in the Thomas Jefferson Building at 10 First Street SE in D.C.

The National Heritage Fellowships Concert will feature music, demonstrations and conversations with the National Heritage Fellows and other special guests. The evening will be hosted by Queen Nur, storyteller, teaching artist, and director of the Folklife Center at the Perkins Center for the Arts.

The concert will take place 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 20 at the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall (610 F Street NW) and streamed live at Free tickets to the concert can be reserved via Shakespeare Theatre Company’s website, either online, by phone at 202-547-1122, or in person at Sidney Harman Hall. Ticket-holders should arrive by 7:45 p.m. At that time, all unclaimed tickets will be released to those in the stand-by line.

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