Onawumi Jean Moss of Amherst, Massachusetts is a storyteller, narrator, keynote speaker and author. The performances of this talking book and rhythm master encourage pride of heritage, appreciation of cultural differences and recognition of kinship. This Tennessee native's first stories were learned from her parents and in church. Her mother, a self-taught reader conveyed, by example, the inherent relationship of context and story and life-lessons. Her father, a natural-born comedian, told riveting night-sky stories as well as eerie, sometimes funny, ghost stories. Today Onawumi is an accomplished storyteller in her own right- a significant accomplishment considering the fact that over the course of twenty-one (21) years, she was a full-time Associate Dean of Students at Amherst College (1985-2006).
During her career as a part-time storyteller, Onawumi has made content-rich, thought-provoking and entertaining presentations before inter-generational audiences across the U.S. and in the Netherlands. Her solo performances, workshops and keynotes, a seamless blend of story and a cappella singing, have consistently won high praise from audiences–kindergarten through college. The same is true of audience feedback from civic, community, religious and business sectors.
Onawumi's story programs inspire imagination, inquiry, reflection and expression and also complement the study of communications, the humanities, performance, the social sciences and history.
She is the first college administrator to have founded and consistently produced a multicultural storytelling festival (Keepers of the Word 1993-2006) - host to nearly sixty celebrated tellers of African, Asian, European, Hispanic, Latin and Native American heritage. In an unprecedented move, she was twice invited by Amherst College students to give story-based keynote addresses (1988 and 2004) at Senior Assembly (the only administrator ever accorded this honor.z
While cultivating her part-time career, Onawumi:
• made the PBS Special KWANZAA (1998) which showcases her masterful command of storytelling, narration and writing; and
• co-authored her first children's book, Precious and the Boo Hag with acclaimed author Patricia C. McKissack. Precious and the Boo Hag has received three starred reviews, is the winner of the 2006 ALA/ALSC Notable Children's Book award (Middle Readers category); is the national finalist for three prestigious national awards: the CCBC Charlotte Zolotow Honor Book Award; Storytelling World Award, Stories for Young Listeners Category (2006) and the Irma S. and James H. Black Honor for Excellence in Children's Literature Award (2006).
Onawumi is a 2005 recipient of the Zora Neale Hurston Storytelling Award (November 2005), the highest award given by the National Association of Black Storytellers (NABS). She holds lifetime memberships in the National Storytellers Network (NSN) and the National Association of Black Storytellers (NABS). She is also a member of the League for the Advancement of New England Storytelling (LANES).
"The response that filtered back to the Arts and Assemblies Committee from both faculty and students alike were overwhelmingly positive and enthusiastic. From the eight-year-old second graders who were studying about fairy tales, to the much older sixth and seventh graders who were tackling themes of racism and looking at poetry of African American writers, you found a way to reach them all. Your stories were age appropriate, optimistic, and inspiring. Your gift for storytelling was a pleasure to experience. Both the children and grownups loved how you truly became the character you were describing, never missing a voice change or a personality type....It was an entertaining message of hope and respect, and we thank you for bringing us your gift."
- Co-Chair, Arts and Assemblies, The Park School