It had taken days to track him down in the narrow crumbling streets of Marrakech’s medina. Ahmed Temiicha was once the most famous storyteller in Marrakech, but when I met him he was old, frail and had gone blind.
He lived in an old house or riad with balconies overlooking an inner courtyard of peeling walls and cracked tiles. I sat down and listened to his stories. His eyes seemed to sparkle as he recounted a long twisting saga called, “The Apples of El-Ghaliya bent Mansour.” She was an enchantress who lived beneath the seventh sea. She would sleep for a year and stay awake for the next one. She would make her bed with half of her hair and cover herself in the other half. Seven watchmen guarded seven doors of her underwater palace. Beyond its walls was an orchard of golden apples. The hero of the story had to steal one of these in order to marry a beautiful princess…
Like tales from ‘A Thousand and One Nights’, traditional Moroccan stories are fantasies; a world where listeners young and old can escape from their everyday lives. But they are also fables, parables and morality tales which teach us how to live a good life. The stories of Marrakech are especially culturally rich because they have diverse influences: from the Arab Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Berber people of North Africa.
As I listened to Ahmed’s stories, I felt as if I was travelling back in time. This must have been what it was like centuries ago in remote mountain villages or among the dunes of the desert, when camel herders gathered around camp fires and told tall tales beneath the stars. It had been a privilege to listen to Ahmed in that small room with its broken tiles and old mattresses. By telling stories he seemed to keep himself alive, and he enchanted me. In the land of the blind, the storyteller is king.Read More
I want to share with you a story about a kid who grew up to be one of his idols.
Not long ago, there was a child, a baby boy, who grew up in a traditional Moroccan house in the old medina of Marrakech. He was so energetic that where ever he went he caused a mess. One night his grandmother told him “I want to tell you a story.” She began with the words “Hajitek Majitek,” which mean “Once upon a time” in Moroccan Arabic. The boy started listening, but eventually he fell asleep in the middle of the story. When he woke up the next day, he asked his grandmother for the rest of the story, but she replied that she would continue the story that evening. From that moment on, every evening, with her stories, his grandmother changed and built something within the boy that he would soon discover.Read More
For the launch of The Storyteller, I had the honor of hosting my launch party at the wonderful Manhattan independent children’s bookstore Books of Wonder, and to create a window display for their storefront.Read More
Julie Danielson at “7 Impossible Things Before Breakfast” interviewed The Storyteller creator Evan Turk about the creation of The Storyteller, upcoming projects, making a picture book, and much more! Take a look to see sketches, thumbnails, and even some ceramics!Read More
The storytelling traditions of Morocco burst into brilliant swaths of gold and lapis lazuli in the visually thrilling pages of Evan Turk’s “The Storyteller” (Atheneum, 48 page, $18.99). Set in modern times, this picture book for 4- to 8-year-olds begins by evoking a past when stories spun by fabulists brought people together with a force as refreshing and life-giving as the kingdom’s many fountains. “But as the kingdom grew and life became easier…,” we read, “the voices of storytellers were drowned by noise and silenced by age, and one by one the fountains dried up.”
It is in this sere, story-famished Morocco that a thirsty young boy receives, from a stranger, a brass cup. If he can find water, the cup will allow him to share. Soon the boy encounters a withered old man, who spins a tale of drought and treachery and whose words, to the boy’s amazement, leave his cup brimming with water. Over the next days, the man unfurls more stories, each connected to the first, each a wellspring of fresh water. So when a fierce jinni in the form of a sandstorm arrives to menace the city, the boy and the storyteller know what to do: Like Scheherazade, they forestall destruction by telling stories to the jinni. Mr. Turk’s illustrations lend a strange beauty to this tale-within-a-tale-within-a-tale.
Publisher’s Weekly’s “Children’s Bookshelf” recently did a feature photo essay on the creation of ‘The Storyteller’! I talked with them about the inspiration, my trips to Morocco, where I learned some of the techniques, and how the story began! Thank you so much to Natasha Gilmore at PW for reaching out.
You can check out a link to see it all below:Read More