The Central Ohion enchants audiences of all ages with tales in the Affrilachian tradition.

From nursery rhymes to bedtime tales, most parents spend a sizable chunk of time telling stories to their children. For storyteller Lyn Ford, however, the activity is not just a habit but a vocation.

The 68-year-old Western Pennsylvania native has long regaled Central Ohioans with tales drawn from the Affrilachian tradition, a term referring to people of African American heritage who call the Appalachian region home. Although her target audiences are children in prekindergarten through elementary school, Ford also shares stories with adults.

A mother to three (two sons and one daughter) with husband Bruce, the East Side resident is also grandmother to 10 and great-grandmother to four.

Did you have favorite storytellers when you were growing up?

Oh, my father was my favorite. His nickname was Jake. He actually told a lot of folk tales. In those younger days, I wasn't worried about whether something was of a certain genre, but now I know that he told a lot of folk tales and a lot of spooky stories. And he would also make things up on the spot. The problem now is that no one wrote them. They weren't recorded, and I wish that I had some of those stories.

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How do you come up with your stories?

I do tell some original ones … but most of the ones that are folk tales begin with something I heard as a child or something that my mother read to us at bedtime. Then I do research on them, trying to find the oldest version I can in books or from storytellers who share similar stories or similar cultural heritage, so that they might know a story that would be in my family's collections. After I've checked at least three sources … then I start trying to put the story together for myself.

Are there telltale signs that young people are engaged when you're talking?

Oh, very much. They will start to lean forward as if we are in a one-to-one conversation, and you can see the expression on most of their faces. It lets me know that they're involved, and sometimes there are those verbal responses: “Oh, no,” or a gasp or, of course, the laughter. I pay a great deal of attention to all of that from as many faces as I can see among them, and play off of what they're sharing with me.

It's the best feeling in the world, and it just makes me feel my child's heart, too.

Did you tell stories to your own children?

My daughter was my best audience. The boys liked some of it, but my daughter seemed to stay involved with the storytelling experience longer. And yet there were bedtime stories, and when it was time for them to do reading for school, we would sit on the sofa together and take turns reading the book and talking about it.

Are your grandchildren and great-grandchildren audience members of yours, too?

Some of them. In fact, our youngest granddaughter actually tells stories in her classroom. She just turned 10 this December. She makes up stories, and she even twists folk tales in a similar fashion, and she loves scary stories, too. Child after my heart.

Do you think that storytelling is a good vehicle for encouraging literacy?

Absolutely. I think sharing, particularly, the old folk tales and fairy tales helps the child to imagine, to create for themselves what the illustrations will be. This is actually guiding them into if/then processing and sequencing, critical and creative thinking—all problem-solving skills, not just language arts skills. I think it's important for parents to talk with their children constantly, as much as they can. It encourages the child both to listen and to speak more effectively.

What does “Affrilachian” mean?

The word was created by a professor and poet from Kentucky, Frank X Walker. He created the term as a reminder that the Appalachian region is a very diverse place, and it has been for decades.

When I heard the term, it touched my heart because it gave an explanation of who I was. My family heritage is diverse, but we are of African American heritage, and most of my family settled in the Appalachian region, from North Carolina into New York state.

Do you have favorite stories?

The ones that my father told are my favorite. They are stories of the rabbit, some of them, and also opossum. There are several opossum stories. Those folk tales are a big thing for me to tell. The story of “Possum and Snake” is one that I try to tell at every festival—to honor my father, but also because it feels good to tell it.

A shorter version of this Q&A appears in the Spring 2020 issue of Columbus Parent.