Arts & Entertainment

The Importance of Oral Storytelling

LeVar Burton

Lesson time 12:16 min

Oral storytelling is our legacy as humans. In this lesson, LeVar explores the significance of oral storytelling and its relationship to how we communicate today.

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Topics include: Pass Along the Energetic · Listening Is Active· Bring Your Attention


[MUSIC PLAYING] - The oral tradition of storytelling is one of the primary building blocks of civilization. In the early days, it was how all knowledge was passed from one generation to another. And that's what brought the aspect of continuity to our lives as a species, the idea that one generation passes its knowledge and information down to the next through storytelling, the idea that what I know about my ancestors comes from the stories that I've been told from the time I was a little boy. Alex Haley talking about roots and his journey of writing the novel "Roots"-- he used to talk about sitting on his grandmother's Cynthia's porch in Henning, Tennessee, and hearing the stories in the summer-- all of the old ladies in the family would sit, and rock, and chew, and spit tobacco, and they would tell the stories of the family. And inevitably, those stories would get to the original African. They called him the old African, Kunta Kinte, who one day was looking for wood to make a drum for his younger brother, and was never seen or heard from again. And the importance of Kunta maintaining his identity and maintaining his contact with who he was enabled him to pass that story on to succeeding generations. When he came to this country, he was in chains, and then he was able to pass on his personal story to, first, his daughter Kizzy, and Kizzy passed that story along to her son, Chicken George, and on and on through the succeeding generations. It's a powerful illustration of the nature of information as it is passed orally. [MUSIC PLAYING] I think what makes the oral tradition of storytelling unique to the human experience is the idea that it is as old as it is, and that that's where our contact and the nature of our communication with one another was born. It was born out of a need and necessity to communicate. You can achieve the same thing through the art of written storytelling, but there's an energetic that is passed through the oral tradition that isn't present necessarily in any other medium. And that energetic has everything to do with there being nothing required in order to enjoy it, that there is nothing that one needs to do to learn to perform in able to benefit from the oral storyteller tradition. You just have to be present. You just have to be listening. You just have to be paying attention. So I think it's the nature of oral storyteller itself as being something that requires no additional work on our part that makes it so important to us, that makes it so unique. Take the time, if you are able, to sit with the oldest members of your family, and get their stories. Have them tell you their stories so that they don't disappear. The way this transference of knowledge, and information, and lore works is that it is only at its most successful when it is shared. And in order to share a story, you have to have contact with it. You have to know that story. And they say that a griot is like ...

About the Instructor

With his iconic roles in Roots and Star Trek: The Next Generation and 23 years as the host of Reading Rainbow, LeVar Burton has left an indelible mark on our culture. Now the Emmy, Grammy, and Peabody winner is sharing his approach to storytelling so you can connect authentically with any audience. Learn how to find intention, use your voice, and mine your experiences to be a more effective and dynamic storyteller.

Featured Masterclass Instructor

LeVar Burton

Emmy winner and Reading Rainbow host LeVar Burton teaches you his techniques for more dynamic, authentic storytelling.

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