I prefer to see myself as a personal storyteller versus a traditional ghostwriter.
A personal storyteller realizes that the process of telling a story is much more important than having savvy business practices and lucrative financial success. Coupled with helping others to heal through writing and remembering and revising, an honest storyteller does not write solely for money.
A personal storyteller realizes that we have a responsibility to be the midwives for potential authors. We are griots for every person we encounter.
When I first read Roots by Alex Haley, I was fascinated by the storytellers he described in West Africa. Called “Griots”, they were bards and librarians, both the historians and keepers of family lineages. They protected the story of their communities dating back hundreds and hundreds of years and they did so through rote memorization and the oral tradition. Can you believe how much skill that would take?
While doing the research for his book, Haley claims that he was able to find information about his ancestral lineage through visiting the griots of West Africa. An African American who could not own his own story because of America’s sordid participation in the slave trade, Haley was able to finally do so with the help of another a professional storyteller (the griot).
I love how Francis Bebey describes them:
“The West African griot is a troubadour, the counterpart of the medieval European minstrel… The griot knows everything that is going on… He is a living archive of the people’s traditions..
That is such a beautiful thing to be. A “living archive of the people’s traditions.” After reading Roots, I grew up with dreams of becoming just that.
Somewhere along the way however, more than just being that for someone else, I began to want to help others be that for themselves. That is why with my potential authors, I work to pull the story out of them and place it back into their hands. I do so literally on the page and figuratively in their hearts. I massage their tale and persuade it to come out, hoping that the next story they find within themselves won’t need my presence. My hope is that the person living the tale would be able to bring it forth, heal from it, own it and then write it down themselves.
I firmly believe that each of our stories are our own. No one has more right to them than we do. Sometimes however, they need a little help to come out, the same way a woman helps birth her baby with every push and contraction.
I am a writer both for myself and for others. But more than anything, I am in the business of helping potential storytellers become griots for themselves.