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A national figure in the field of storytelling, she often dressed in headpieces and colorful dress

and bracelets. She appeared at numerous Baltimore schools and libraries and performed

at the Smithsonian Institution, the Kennedy Center and on Nigerian television.



Books By & About Mary Carter Smith

Mary Carter Smith: African American Storyteller  / The Griot's Cookbook: Rare and Well-Done

Vibes: Experimentation in Co-creation  /  Town Child  /  Heart to Heart  

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Mary Carter Smith

 Black Storyteller



Mother Mary Carter Smith -- Co-Founder and Spiritual Leader of the National Association of Black Storytellers (NABS) --  was featured storyteller at the  the First International Storytelling Festival in Ghana, West Africa  (1999).  She's a modern griot who was inspired by the Black cultural expression of the 1960s and 1970s and by her concerns for harmony  among American ethnic groups.

A graduate of Coppin State College, Baltimore, MD, she has done graduate study in drama, speech and oral narration at New York University, Johns Hopkins University, Rutgers University, Queens College, Catholic University, The University of Maryland and Temple Buell University.

As a writer, Mother Mary is included in the 1970 edition of Poetry and The Negro (Doubleday).  An early book of poetry is Opinionated (Beacon Press 1966).  Her poetry with the art of Wes Yamaka, John Levering and Sten Nordh is featured in the book Vibes (Nordika 1974).  Her other works include Town Child, poetry for children (Nordika 1976) and  Heart to Heart   (Fairfax 1980) an autobiographical book of poetry and prose.  She co authored The Griot's Cookbook (Fairfax 1985).

Television experiences include guest appearances on talk shows throughout the country, as well as video tapings for educational television.  She served as hostess of "Black Is" WMPB - UHF, Maryland Center for Public Broadcasting.  She has been hostess/producer of "The Children's Hour" WHUR-FM, Washington, DC. Howard University aired on Saturday Mornings and is now the "Griot for the Young and The Young At Heart," WEAA-FM, Baltimore, Morgan State University and WSTA, St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands.

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A Brief Bio-Sketch & Chronology of a Storyteller

A national figure in the field of storytelling, she often dressed in headpieces and colorful dress and bracelets. She appeared at numerous Baltimore schools and libraries and performed at the Smithsonian Institution, the Kennedy Center and on Nigerian television. Ms. Smith was driven by a multitude of concerns, not only to please and entertain the crowd in the best show-biz tradition but to uplift, to instruct, to span the barriers between peoples. "Mother Mary" was a master storyteller, a griot's griot, a visionary, a philosopher, a historian, an African folklorist, a poet, a singer, and a radio personality (host of the program "Griot for the Young and the Young at heart" on WEAA 88.9 at Morgan State University, for 25 years)

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1919 (10 February)— Born near Montgomery, Alabama, Mary Rogers Ward, to Eartha Nowden and Rogers ward., Ms. Smith grew up in Ohio and West Virginia, before settling in Baltimore.

1923—Her mother, Eartha Nowden Coleman, age 22, was shot to death by Ms. Smith's stepfather in New York City. She was living with her grandmother, Mary Days Nowden, whom she called "Mama Nowden," in Youngstown, Ohio.

1932—Her grandmother died and Ms. Smith came under the care of an aunt, Willie Nowden McAdory.

1935—Moved to Baltimore when the aunt lost her sight and was being treated for blindness at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

1938—Graduated from Frederick Douglass High School  

1942—Graduated from Coppin Teachers College with a a Bachelor of Science in Education -- supporting herself with a night job at the Social Security Administration

1942—Began work with Baltimore school system as teacher and librarian.

1946—Married to Ulysses J. Carter, from this union was born Ricardo Rogers Carter.

1960—Married Elias Raymond Smith

1962—Second husband, Elias Raymond Smith, dies after two years of marriage. Married three times—unions with Ulysses J. Carter and Eugene Grove ended in divorce.

1966Opinionated (Beacon Press), poetry book published.

1969—Attended a poetry reading by actress Joanna Featherstone,  whose influence led her to become a storyteller

1971—Took a leave of absence in  to take up professional storytelling full time

1973—Retired from the city schools system in  to become a full-time storyteller.

1973-74—Griot-In-Residence at Morgan State College, Baltimore

1974—Vibes (Nordika 1974), poetry book published.

1976—Town Child (Nordika ), poetry book for children published.

1978—Her only child, Ricardo "Ricky," was stabbed to death by a woman in a bar.

1980—Heart to Heart   (Fairfax ), an autobiographical book of poetry and prose published.

1982— Co-founded (with Linda Goss of Philadelphia) the National Association of Black Storytellers Inc., which aimed to offer more opportunities to African-American storytellers to be heard. She was a founder of the Griot's Circle of Maryland and Arena Players.

1983—Mother Mary was named the official Griot of Baltimore City

1985—Receives the Zora Neale Hurston Award.

1985—Co-authored The Griot's Cookbook (Fairfax )

1991—Named the official Griot of Maryland.

1994—Proclaimed the "Mother Griot" by the black storytellers association.

1995—Subject of a book in a multicultural children's series, Mary Carter Smith, African-American Storyteller, by Babs Bell Hajdusiewicz.

2004My Autobiography: A Tale That is Told published.

2007 (24 April)—Dies at Genesis Eldercare Cromwell nursing home in Towson. She had been in declining health since suffering a heart attack in January. The Morgan Park resident was 88. . . . Internment was at Arbutus Memorial Park

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To My True Friends

Remember my laughter

Earthy and unabashed

Remember my tears

My cussing

My praying

My changing moods

My ecstasy

My agony

My trying to be honest

Remember me

As I was

As I am

As I will always be


For only with you

Was I most nearly free.

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Color words don't bother me

Cause what I hear I do not see

Chinese are not yellow

An Indian is not red

If you think a white child is white like snow

Something's wrong with your head

I am not black like leather

Black's just a word that stands for me

People come in all colors

So color words don't bother me

Note: The poems above were replicated from the obituary notice passed out at the funeral of Mary Carter Smith.

See also: Founders of  National Association of Black Storytellers

posted 27 April 2007

Other Poems

Mary Carter Smith Sitting on Top the World     Mother Griot Mary Carter Smith

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Life on Mars

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Tracy K. Smith, author of Life on Mars has been selected as the winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. In its review of the book, Publishers Weekly noted the collection's "lyric brilliance" and "political impulses [that] never falter." A New York Times review stated, "Smith is quick to suggest that the important thing is not to discover whether or not we're alone in the universe; it's to accept—or at least endure—the universe's mystery. . . . Religion, science, art: we turn to them for answers, but the questions persist, especially in times of grief. Smith's pairing of the philosophically minded poems in the book’s first section with the long elegy for her father in the second is brilliant." Life on Mars follows Smith's 2007 collection, Duende, which won the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets, the only award for poetry in the United States given to support a poet's second book, and the first Essence Literary Award for poetry, which recognizes the literary achievements of African Americans. The Body’s Question (2003) was her first published collection. Smith said Life on Mars, published by small Minnesota press Graywolf, was inspired in part by her father, who was an engineer on the Hubble space telescope and died in 2008.

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The Last Holiday: A Memoir

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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update 21 April 2012




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Related files:  Mary Carter Smith Sitting on Top the World  The National Association of Black Storytellers   Mother Griot Mary Carter Smith