Area Storytellers to Highlight Women’s Stories at History is Her Story

Rows of red velvet theatre seats are pictured inside the UAlbany Performing Arts Center.
History is Her Story, a program from the UAlbany Performing Arts Center and NYS Writers Institute, will feature four area storytellers sharing stories about strong and influential women of the past and present. (Photo by Brian Busher)

By Bethany Bump

ALBANY, N.Y. (Feb. 27, 2024) — Aya Mahmoud was in eighth grade when she fell in love with storytelling through Children at the Well, a program that brings young people from different cultural backgrounds and traditions together to learn the art of storytelling.

Her favorite story to tell was The Princess of Salt, about a young daughter who must stand by her truth even when it’s not easy to do so. She first heard the tale on Spacetoon, an Arabic-language channel for kids that aired in her native Sudan.  

“That was my favorite story to listen to and read as a child,” said Mahmoud, who is now a freshman at UAlbany majoring in human biology. “And it was the first story I ever told as a storyteller. I picked it as a story to represent me.”

Mahmoud will share the story once again at History is Her Story, a program from the UAlbany Performing Arts Center and NYS Writers Institute that will feature four area storytellers spinning yarns about strong and influential women of the past and present, famous and lesser known, real or imagined in myths, folktales and legends. The free program, which kicks off Women’s History Month, begins at 2 p.m. Sunday at the PAC.  

In addition to Mahmoud, storytellers Marni Gillard, Claire Nolan and Stephanie Ward will entertain the audience with stories about women across the world who are groundbreakers shattering conventional wisdom, defying naysayers and making history theirs.

Composite image of four portraits
From left to right: Stephanie Ward, Aya Mahmoud, Marni Gillard and Claire Nolan (Photos provided)

Nolan, an instructor in UAlbany’s Intensive English Language Program, will tell the story of Nala and Damyanti from the Indian epic, the Mahabharata. It is the story of a woman who, through her love, devotion and shrewd planning, saves her husband from addiction.

Like Mahmoud, Nolan was also drawn to storytelling as a young girl — something she picked up from her parents and grandparents, who would regale her and her nine brothers and sisters with stories from their childhoods in Utica and immigrant ancestors.  

She became hooked after attending a Tellebration, a night of storytelling celebrated worldwide each November, and shortly after joined the Story Circle of the Capital District. She most enjoys telling myths, folktales and family stories.

“After I tell a story, the audience will come up to me and say, ‘Oh my goodness, that happened to me,’ or ‘Oh my goodness, my brother did the exact same thing,’” she said. “It's just lovely to hear people's reactions and know that we share this human connection, regardless of our age or where we're from.”

Gillard, a former educator who was awarded the Northeast’s Regional Service Award from the National Storytelling Network in 2002, performs locally and has also traveled to Ireland, South Africa and India to share tales. She specializes in workshops where students or adults find the life stories or folktales they can tell.

Gillard will share stories about Ida B. Wells-Barnett, investigative journalist, early leader in the civil rights movement and one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and Sojourner Truth, the American abolitionist and women’s rights activist. She will also share the poem “Harriet Tubman” by African American writer Eloise Greenfield. 

Ward, an actor and storyteller, has performed for the Interfaith Story Circle of the Capital District and is a coach for Children at the Well. She has also performed at the Sterling Renaissance Festival. She will tell two folktales, The Woodland Dancers from Italy and A Basket of Pears from Siberia.

No tickets are required for Sunday’s program. For more information, contact the PAC at 518-442-3995 or [email protected]