The University of Wisconsin Press

African Studies / Folklore / Oral History


Harold Scheub

An authority on oral tradition explores the storyteller's art

What is the essence of story? How does the storyteller convey meaning? Leading scholar Harold Scheub tackles these questions and more, demonstrating that the power of story lies in emotion.

While others have focused on the importance of structure in the art of story, Scheub emphasizes emotion. He shows how an expert storyteller uses structural elements—image, rhythm, and narrative—to shape a story's fundamental emotional content. The storyteller uses traditional images, repetition, and linear narrative to move the audience past the story's surface of morals and ideas, and make connections to their past, present, and future. To guide the audience on this emotional journey is the storyteller's art.

The traditional stories from South African, Xhosa, and San cultures included in the book lend persuasive support to Scheub's. These stories speak for themselves, demonstrating that a skilled performer can stir emotions despite the obstacles of space, time, and culture.

"Story is as sound and original a piece of scholarship as we have been waiting for in the study of oral narrative performance. . . .written by one of the best scholars who have anything to say on the subject of storytelling."—Isidore Okpewho, author of African Oral Literature

author photoHarold Scheub is professor of African languages and literature at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. To record oral traditions he has walked more than 6000 miles through South Africa, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, and Lesotho. He is the author of The Poem in the Story, The Tongue Is Fire and the editor of Nongenile Masithathu Zenani's The World and the Word: Tales and Observations from Xhosa Oral Tradition, all published by the University of Wisconsin Press, and the author of The African Storyteller.

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cover of Story is a magenta tone photo of a man speaking.

October 1998
LC: 98-015478 GR
368 pp.   6 x 9   15 b/w photos

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Paper $27.95 t
ISBN 978-0-299-15934-4
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