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Biography

Tololwa Mollel is a storyteller, dramatist, and an award-winning author of over twenty books for the young and not so young in English and in Swahili, the national language of his native African country of Tanzania. He has also written several dramatic works he calls story-plays because of the mix of storytelling and drama in them. His books include The Orphan Boy, whose illustrations by Paul Morin won the Governor General’s Award; Rhinos for Lunch and Elephants for Supper; Song Bird; and To Dinner for Dinner. His book My Rows and Piles of Coins, won the Coretta Scott King Honor for illustrations by E. B. Lewis. That title also won the Alberta Writers Guild R. Ross Annett Children’s Literature Prize. So did his other title Big BoyFrom Lands of the Night is his latest book, published by Red Deer Press. That title will be published in Tanzania as a bilingual Swahili/English edition for Eastern and Central Africa, in countries where Swahili is spoken. He plans to publish other bilingual books in English and Swahili in Tanzania. Tololwa’s books have been published in Canada, the U.S., Australia, Britain, South Africa, and Tanzania. Some of Tololwa’s work has been translated into other languages, among them Korean, Serbian, Norwegian, Bengali, and several South African tongues. He has worked in theatre as an actor and dramatist in Canada and in Tanzania. Tololwa has combined his storytelling, writing and dramatic skills in various theatrical projects and other creative work for children. Tololwa has presented and performed widely in schools, libraries, and at conferences, conventions and book festivals across Canada and the U.S. Of his presentations, he says, “I aim to provide a feast, for the ear, the eye and equally important, the mind.”

 

Increasingly of interest to Tololwa as a writer, storyteller and performer, is writing he does to create story plays, and for something he calls story performance.  He does two types of stories for performance. The first consists of stories he performs solo as a storyteller or theatrical story performer; the second of ones he works into ensemble theatrical productions in collaboration with theatre director, actors and musicians, and other artists as needed. For theatrical productions, solo and ensemble, Tololwa is working on a long term series he calls “Story House”. The first production in the series, Story House 1, took place in 2012 as part of StageLab, a theatrical festival of new works that the University of Alberta organized. The production consisted of two theatrically adapted stories: “Urashima Taro”, a Japanese tale, and a performance version of “From Lands of the Night”, in which Tololwa was one of the performers. Store House 1 involved six performers, a musician and music coach, a choreographer and a theatre director, Jan Selman. Story House 2 production, in 2014 StageLab, consisted of “Grow Grow Grow”, a one-person show which Tololwa, through enactment and narration, performed solo under the direction of theatre director Jan Selman. Besides, and inspired by, his story performance work and writing, Tololwa does multifarious storytelling workshops for all ages and tells/performs stories adapted from his African heritage and from the world’s multicultural storehouse of tales.

 

Tololwa will be offering virtual sessions for Fall 2022.

Presentations

Grades he presents to: K – 12, Adult

Audience Limit: 25 for workshops, 100 for presentations

Presentation Limit: 4-5 sessions

Virtual visits: $125 for one up to 30 minute session; $225 for one 30-60-minute session. Tolo offers a discounted rate of $175 per 60 minute session when multiple sessions are booked by the same school.

Tololwa requests that the virtual set-up and testing of the platforms happens at least one week prior to the presentation date and that session login is available 20 minutes before the presentation start time.

Tololwa’s presentations: their nature in general

Over the years, Tololwa has worked to combine discussion of, and limited selective readings from, his books and story plays with a free-ranging storytelling of tales adapted from his African heritage, as well as ones from multicultural sources the world over. Some of the tales he shares echo common ones from European classical folktale traditions that constitute the enduring staple universally familiar in North America and beyond. Audiences for Tololwa’s storytelling have consisted of all ages — from Kindergarteners, older children, teens and adults — with a repertoire well-seasoned over the years and through his performances in a variety of settings and to diverse listeners. He likes to engage his audiences through their participation — mentally, physically and fun-wise — in his storytelling performances, which range in type from wisdom stories; trickster tale;  tales with twists; tales with songs and chants; stories that are thought-provoking; those that contain riddles and mysteries he invites audiences to untangle; to other types of tales. Tololwa views his books and story-plays as a means with which he tries to capture the spirit of the world’s traditional tales that make up his storytelling performances, particularly the tales from his African heritage. His presentations include embedded illustrations as to how his written work fits into the enduring ancient tradition of storytelling that defines us as humans.

Tololwa’s presentations for younger students

With elementary students, Tololwa’s presentations are part storytelling, part reading from his books, part sharing of brief demonstrative remarks about the sources for and the African setting in his writing. Depending on the age and nature of an audience, he also touches on questions related to books and his writing and creative process. Tololwa tries as much as possible to get his audience to do something, participate in some way: whether in doing a song or chant, movement, sound effects, or an abbreviated storytelling circle; and through a question and answer segment. Guiding Tololwa’s presentation is a perennial and engaging spirit of storytelling performance which enables him to connect with his audiences in a seemingly effortless way. With Kindergarten students, whom Tololwa would prefer if possible to have an audience on their own, performances are more animated and very much activity-based, with movement and vocal involvement of the children.

Tololwa’s presentations for older students

With older students in junior and senior high school, Tololwa discusses ideas about the writing process and the demands and nature of creative artistic work, and other related matters. To avoid boring students to death, he aims for a demonstrative presentation. He makes his points through anecdotes about his experiences in creative work, overheads or slides of photographs from theatrical productions and of illustration from his books. He also shares/performs excerpts from his stories and/or plays. He likes particularly to demonstrate from his own experience, the journey that a tale travels from – its form as a story to its form as a dramatic piece on stage. Tololwa never loses sight of the fact that all of us — old and young — enjoy storytelling. As a result of this, he imbues his presentations to older students with a storytelling spirit which is always a sure-fire way of connecting with an audience, no matter the age. Over the years, Tololwa has discovered that older students enjoy, to their surprise but not to his, a re-introduction into the ageless joys of a storytelling performance or storytelling approach to a presentation, they thought as did many others, they had left behind in the “distant” world of their childhood.

Tololwa’s Presentations for Multi-Age Range of Students, Families, and Adults With situations, say, in small town schools, where a small student population may dictate a need for multiage audiences, to connect Tololwa uses the power of storytelling, which he employs to maximum effect.

With multiage sessions made up of a group of younger students (Gr. 1 – 6), he focuses on telling his stories, rather than reading. If he reads, he limits himself to short excerpts from his books or story plays only to provide examples about this or that element in the writing or creative process in general, or as it relates to his own work. He also uses accounts of little personal stories, illustrative snippets from his life which he has accumulated over thousands of presentations to all ages over the years across Canada and in the US. He is good at playing it by ear, tailoring his presentations to suit different audiences. Vibes from an audience determine his approach and content in each session, an ability he has developed in the years and years of his work with schools and audiences, and as a theatre artist and performer. Mindful of the younger students within this group, say Gr. 1 – 2, Tololwa offers engaging participatory stories that are potentially suitable beyond this particular age range. In his years in storytelling, Tololwa has developed a sense of stories and a repertoire that work well across different age levels.

With multiage sessions of older students (Gr. 7 -12), Tololwa has discovered that he has much to offer, notwithstanding the fact of his reputation, possibly passed on to this group before his arrival, as that of a “children’s author”. With such a mix of older students, Tololwa focuses on storytelling that includes selective personal stories that illustrate particular points of interest to this more mature group. The nature of the storytelling he does — more thought-provoking, mature and posing various questions about life and mankind — is different from what he does for the younger students. He leaves quite a lot of dots for these older students to fill in, with quite a bit of nudge and wink about things that don’t need to be said. In other words, for this older group, what Tololwa says is as important as what he holds back, for the students themselves to figure out! This older bunch don’t need to be told everything. They have been around the block quite a lot longer than the younger students. Tololwa has also noticed that another thing that unites the students across this grade range is discussion of the writing process. These students have been in school long enough to know how challenging the writing process can be, and how rewarding i is when you get things right. Students in this grade range, Tololwa has discovered, always welcome and are inspired by insights into the writing process that he can share with them. In his session, as in all his sessions, Tololwa encourages students to ask questions, or to comment, in Q and A segments, and to engage in a dialogue over ideas to do with writing and the creative process, or with life as dealt with through stories; and in this way does Tololwa keep the interactive ball rolling.

Families and Adults: Tololwa welcomes presenting to mixed family audiences, or to adult audiences. His enormous experience as a storyteller, performer and maker of stories, has enabled him to tune into the different levels brought on by age differences, that may exist in a mixed audience. For strictly adult audiences, Tololwa finds the change of pace from young audiences, to be refreshing and inspiring. Then he is able to share stories that he dares not to tell to — or in a manner he is unable to perform for — younger audiences!

Workshops

Tololwa centers his workshops on the activity of storytelling and some dramatization, and works with smaller groups of 25 maximum. He uses writing as an important vehicle and reflective tool at different stages of the workshop process. A model for the workshop that Tololwa follows is this. He shares an engaging story which he then gets the students as a group to retell in a storytelling circle, more than once as time allows. At a certain point, Tololwa divides the students into sub-groups, each of which does its own storytelling circle. The idea is to have the students become more and more familiar and confident with the story in the process of the workshop, and to have the story grow more detailed and textured, and richer. Perhaps, eventually, some dramatization creeps into the process, or is allowed or encouraged to creep in, making the activity part storytelling, and part dramatic. At the end of it all, Tololwa will have given the students a chance to reflect on and interpret the story as to what it means to them on a human, social and artistic level as a group, sub-group and individually. Tololwa adapts his workshops to suit all age groups through his choice of age appropriate stories to share and work on.

Tololwa can also adapt his workshop model into a long term project, to get students —  in pairs, individually or in groups — to work on personal stories from their lives or various ideas or activities; or to create stories or snippets of them out of inspiration from selected or shared traditional multicultural tales. Tololwa likes to incorporate, as much as possible and where necessary, performance and dramatic work in his workshops, especially with students who may find writing and reading to constitute a struggle.

Space and Group Size, and keyword curricular relevance of Tololwa’s work

Tololwa can work with students from Kindergarten to Senior High, grouped compatibly. Tololwa works in all types of spaces but prefers not to do his presentations in the gym, if it can be avoided. He works with up to 100 students per group, smaller groups, 25 maximum for workshops. He likes to discuss his visit with his host beforehand and requests a note from the school detailing particulars of the visit.

For convenience, below are the keywords linking Tololwa’s titles, his storytelling and story performance, and presentation, to school curricular needs. I list the keywords with the relevant books in brackets. Tololwa’s storytelling and/or story performance are relevant across all the curricular needs.  [1] Friendship (Shadow Dance, Song Bird, Kitoto the Mighty) [2] African folktales (many of Tololwa’s books)  [3] Beginning of Things/Porquois stories (A Promise to the Sun, The OrphanBoy) [4] Quest (Subira Subira, Song-Bird, Kitoto the Mighty) [5] (Modern) Tanzania/Africa (Subira Subira, My Rows and Piles of Coins, Big Boy, Kele’s Secret) [6] The Trickster (The Flying Tortoise, Rhinos for Lunch and Elephants for Supper, To Dinner, For Dinner) [7] Trust (The Orphan Boy, Subira Subira) [8] Song/music stories (Song-Bird, Subira Subira, Shadow Dance, To Dinner, for Dinner, Shadow Dance)

Bibliography

  • Grazing Back Home. (Forthcoming). 2020. A children’s picture book with music by Garth Prince. To be published by Garth Prince Music.
  • “Feasting on Words” and “Canada Dry”. 2019. Articles in The Black Prairies Archives: anthology. Wilfred Laurier University Press.
  • Home: Stories Connecting Us All (edited). 2017, eBook anthology of personal and community immigrant stories across Edmonton in honor of Canada 150.
  • “Anthem of Life”. 2017, play for Thousand Faces Festival.
  • Story House II. 2015, a play at the U of A Timm’s Centre: “Grow, Grow, Grow”
  • Theatrical Project Subira Subira. 2013, story with music performance school residencies
  • From Lands of the Night Illustrated by Darryl McCalla Red Deer Press 2013
  • Story House I. 2012, two plays at the U of A Timm’s Centre: “From Lands of the Night” and “Urashima Taro”
  • 2011, a play workshopped with The Foundry Theatre in Toronton
  • Storytelling/Theatrical Project. 2011
  • The Olive Leaf Ontario: McGraw-Hill Ryerson 2011
  • A Promise to the Sun. Short children’s story, chickaDEE Magazine 2009
  • The Orphan Boy (reprint) Illustrated By Paul Morin Fitzhenry and Whiteside 2009; reprint from the original 1990 edition. (Awards and/or Honors: The Governor General’s Award; Amelia Howard-Gibbon Award; American Booksellers Association Pick of the Lists; Canadian Library Association Notable Books List; CCBC Our Choice List; Elizabeth Cleaver Award; Notable Children’s Book in the Language Arts; Notable Children’s Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies; Parents’ Choice Storybook Award)
  • A Promise to the Sun. 2005, a play performed and published in an anthology.
  • African Story Evening.2003, story performance, Jericho, Vermont, USA
  • The Twins and the Monster.2001, a story for the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra musical for schools.
  • The Visit of the Sea Queen. 2001, a story for the Alberta Dance Theatre (formerly Children in Dance Company) dance performance.
  • Subira Subira Illustrated by Linda Sapport Clarion Books 2000
  • Subira Subira 2000 (Awards and/or Honors: Nominated for the 2001 Bill Martin, Jr. Award by Kansas Reading Association
  • To Dinner, For Dinner Illustrated yy Synthia Saint James Holiday House 2000 (Awards and/or Honors: 2001 Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People; Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Book Award)
  • My Rows and Piles of Coins Illustrated by E. B. Lewis Clarion Books 1999 (Awards and/or Honors: Alberta Writers Guild R. Ross Annett Childrens Literature Prize. African Studies Association 2000 Children’s Africana Award; ALA Notable Book; Canadian Children’s Book Centre (CCBC) Our Choice List – an annual list of 30 best children’s books in Canada (starred); Coretta Scott King Honor Book; On American Library Association list of the year’s 10 best African-American books for children; On Canadian Maclean’s Magazine’s list of the year’s 8 best children’s books)
  • Song Bird Illustrated By Roseanne Litzinger Clarion Books 1999
  • The Flying Tortoise. 1999, a play produced by Fringe Theatre Adventures.
  • Kitoto the Mighty Illustrated by Kristi Frost Stoddart 1998 (Awards and/or Honors: CCBC Our Choice List)
  • Shadow Dance Illustrated by Donna Peronne Clarion Books 1998
  • Ananse’s Feast Illustrated by Andrew Glass Clarion Books 1997 (Awards and/or Honors: CCBC Our Choice List; On American Booksellers Association Pick of the Lists)
  • Dume’s Roar Illustrated by Kathy Blankley-Roman Stoddart 1997 (Awards and/or Honors: CCBC Our Choice List)
  • Keles Secret Illustrated by Catherine Stock Lodestar Books 1997
  • Big Boy Illustrated by E. B. Lewis. Clarion Books 1995 (Awards and/or Honors: Canadian Library Association Honour Book; CCBC Our Choice List; Writers Guild of Alberta Award for Children’s Literature)
  • The Flying Tortoise (book) Illustrated by Barbara Spurl Clarion Books 1995 (Awards and/or Honors: CCBC Our Choice List; Nominated for the Ontario’s Silver Birch Award; A Bank Street College Children’s Book of the Year; American Booksellers Association Pick of the Lists; CCBC Our Choice List)
  • The King and the Tortoise Illustrated by Kathy Blankley Clarion Books 1993 (Awards and/Honors: Notable Children’s Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies)
  • A Promise to the Sun (book) Illustrated by Beatriz Vidal Brown & Co. 1992 (Awards and/or Honors: CCBC Our Choice List; Honorable Mention, California Children’s Media Awards)
  • Rhinos for Lunch and Elephants for Supper Illustrated By Barbara Spurl Clarion Books 1992 (Awards and/or Honors: CCBC Our Choice List; Florida Reading Association Award; Nominated for Georgia Reading Association Award)
  • The Princess Who Lost Her Hair Illustrated by Charles Reasoner Troll Books 1992.

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