South Arts Announces the 2023 Black Appalachian Storyteller Fellowship Recipients

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South Arts is pleased to announce the three in-region Black Appalachian Storyteller Fellows. Each fellow is recognized for their contributions to carrying forward the tradition of storytelling within their communities. As a fellow, each storyteller receives a $5,000 cash award, funds to attend the “In the Tradition…” Black Storytelling Festival and Conference in November 2023, and membership in the National Association of Black Storytellers (NABS). These fellowships are produced in partnership between South Arts’ In These Mountains initiative, NABS, and Mid Atlantic Arts.

Banner featuring the 3 Black Appalachian Storyteller Fellows: Andrew Baskin, Ronnie W. Pepper, and Kelle Jolly

“The oral traditions of Appalachia sing richly through this year’s Black Appalachian Storyteller Fellowship recipients,” said Teresa Hollingsworth, South Arts’ Director of Traditional Arts. “Storytelling, especially within Black Appalachian communities, represents a vital connection with ancestors, forebearers, and family. Their voices and stories connect generations of history, and are so important in helping us understand who we are today.”

The 2023 Black Appalachian Storyteller Fellows from the South Arts region are:

  • Andrew Baskin: Professor Emeritus Berea College, Griot, Advocate, Historian, Mentor; Madison County, Kentucky
  • Ronnie W. Pepper: Performer, Historian, Advocate, Mentor; Henderson County, North Carolina
  • Kelle Jolly: Performer, Recording Artist, Mentor, Workshop Presenter, Cultural Organizer; Knox County, Tennessee

With their awards, each fellow will support their practice and build on community-based projects. These projects include commemorations and celebrations of community leaders, a multimedia exploration of the Kingdom of the Happy Land, and development of a local support-system for other storytellers.

These fellows join three additional recipients from Mid Atlantic Arts’ region — Lyn Ford of Ohio, L. Renée of Virginia, and Aristotle Jones of West Virginia — as this year’s cohort of fellows.

The co-founders of NABS, Mother Mary Carter Smith and Mama Linda Goss (born and raised in Appalachia Tennessee), conceived the idea of a storytelling festival to give opportunities to African American storytellers to share the stories of their heritage.

The first “In The Tradition…” Festival of Black Storytelling was held at Morgan State
University (MSU) in 1983. Now in its 41st year, the Festival and Conference will be in Salt Lake City, Utah and co-hosted by NABS Affiliate, NSOUL (Nubian Storytellers of Utah Leadership). The 2023 Fellows will be honored and will receive an originally designed award by Tennessee Appalachian Folk Artist, Dena Jennings.

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