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“Story, as it turns out, was crucial to our evolution — more so than opposable thumbs. Opposable thumbs let us hang on; story told us what to hang on to.”
– Lisa Cron

Oral storyteller

Oral storytelling has a long history – it dates back to when language was first created, and before that, we told stories using signs, symbols and images. Storytelling isn’t just about entertainment (although it can be). It’s how we’ve shared information and made sense of the world since the year dot, and we continue to use stories in some shape or form to continue to do that.

Since 2010, I have been a traditional oral storyteller and a performance artist. I chose to call myself Ziyadliwa, which reflects my South African roots, and over the years, I have been fortunate to tell tales to thousands of people in the USA, South Africa, and across Europe. I tell tales to adult audiences. They reflect the full range of human experience, including the experiences that we like to shy away from, and they provoke thought and discussion and emotion. And it’s this ability of stories to transport people to new worlds, align the teller and the listener, and subtly challenge ideas and bias that makes them so powerful.

As an oral storyteller, I have passion for combining traditional tales – folk tales, myths, legends, and tall tales from around the world – with historical stories and factual information. My role is not to lie to people or to force them to agree with my ideas or opinions. Instead, I craft well-researched performances that weave hard facts and fantasy into a tale that informs and delights in equal measure, and I let the audience decide where to go with the information they receive. It’s a softly-softly approach that sticks in minds, seeps deep into the sub-conscious, and yields interesting results.

At the moment, I am particularly interested in creative collaborations with organisations who want to talk about environmental or climate-related themes, or who are working to tackle today’s sustainability challenges. I am working on this in my PhD, where I am exploring how to influence environmental thinking through oral storytelling, too.

Have a creative collaboration in mind? I’d love to chat further.

Suzanne Whitby

writer. communication specialist. climate communicator. storyteller.