Emily Hooper Lansana
If you hear Emily tell stories, you may hear an African folktale, a moment from Black History, a personal memory, or a journey into the future. Whatever the form, you will hear a story that inspires.
Here's how it started....
Once upon a soulful time, a little black girl, Emily, the youngest of three, was born in Shaker Heights, Ohio to two hard working old school Black people. They invested in the intellectual, spiritual and artistic education of each of their children. They nurtured their dreams and encouraged them to believe anything was possible.
Her sister and brother found their creative voices in music, but she found her place acting on stage. Her daddy used to say, "My baby girl is going to grow up and go to Yale University." When he passed away the day before her 16th birthday, she was compelled to honor his dream. She received a scholarship to Yale and majored in Theatre Studies and completed a Teacher Preparation program for Secondary English. While most of her theater friends moved to LA and New York, she decided to move to Chicago because she believed it was a place where you could make things happen. She was inspired by the cultural history and myriad Black institutions.
The theater community offered fewer opportunities for young black women than she had anticipated. In the midst of a time of soul searching, she was invited to a concert presented by the world renowned storyteller, Jackie Torrence. Emily sat in the audience and was transformed. How magical to watch this wonderful artist use the craft of storytelling to capture a room of adults and hold them spellbound. Inspired to pursue the craft herself, Emily received a grant from the Illinois Arts Council Agency to study storytelling with Shanta Nurullah through the agency’s Master/Apprentice program. She began storytelling, teaching and performing in schools with Glenda Zahra Baker. Their performance duo, In the Spirit, has performed locally and nationally. Emily also attended Northwestern University where she received a master’s degree in Performance Studies.
She continues to develop and expand as an artist and a teacher. Her work as a storyteller and community builder has helped her to develop an extensive performance repertoire featured at local institutions from the DuSable Museum to the Chicago Humanities Festival, and nationally, from the Mississippi Museum of Art to the National Storytelling Festival.
How it's going...
As an arts educator and facilitator, Emily believes in helping people to, "Tell the story only you can tell." Her compassionate approach to this work has helped to cultivate stories in diverse communities including: Pre-K-12th grade classrooms, community centers, as well as organizations focused on supporting those impacted by incarceration, developing strategies for housing equity and social justice, and centering diverse approaches to liberation.
Emily believes storytelling is her calling. Artistically, she is grateful for each opportunity to tell stories, curate performances, and create individually and collaboratively. Upcoming projects include a commission for the Southern Foodways Alliance; Tell Open Stories: a virtual community storytelling class; and a residency where she will teach the craft and practice of Blackstorytelling.
In addition to the 3arts award, she has been honored by the Gwendolyn Brooks Center at Chicago State University, and by Ox-Bow School of Art.
Profile image by: Keyana Marshall