Oral Traditions


Ashley Bryan (1923–2022)
Turtle Knows Your Name
New York: Atheneum, 1989
The Morgan Library & Museum, purchased on the Edwin V. Erbe Jr. Acquisitions Fund, 2021; PML 198720

© 2022 The Ashley Bryan Center. Used with Permission.


Sandy Campbell: African folktales were an important source of inspiration for Ashley. But he faced challenges when trying to write books based on these folktales. In this clip, Ashley discusses how he adapted oral traditions to the printed page.

Ashley. Bryan: I go to the Schomburg Library, I copy out these documents of stories when there are stories that interest me and then I become the storyteller. Now what can I do with stories that were in the oral tradition and it’s gonna be in a book? How can I bring something of the feeling of the oral tradition into my writing? Ah, through poetry. I use the devices of poetry in my prose. In reading any of my stories, you're gonna hear the rhyme, the rhythm, the syncopation, you'll find onomatopoeia, the playing with sounds, all of the devices of poetry work closely in my prose. What often a prose writer will avoid because they would want you to read more fluently, more directly, I am seizing upon, and using in the way I write my stories. I would like my reader to feel by reading the story, even silently, that he or she can hear the storyteller, you see. And so by using those devices of poetry, I open that up quite directly.