The Brazilian Scheherazade
Clara Haddad, born in São Paulo, learned from her grandmother the oral tradition of Arab tales. She turned this knowledge into her profession and today she delights children, kids and adults with her stories.
São Paulo – To hear stories is part of many people’s childhoods, but São Paulo-born Clara Haddad has given a special meaning to this part of her life. Her Lebanese grandmother used to tell her Arab tales filled with genies and other amazing creatures. Attracted to this universe, she turned it into her profession. Today, she is a professional storyteller and delights children, teenagers and adults with many different tales.
“I grew up with the universe of One Thousand and One Nights, with genies coming out of lamps and ogres trying to mess up lives [of humans]”, says Haddad. To her, the stories were the way her grandmother found to teach her about life. “The Arab tradition has this thinking on attitudes. Through the stories, one can grasp how life works”, she says.
With a major in Performing Arts, Haddad was working in theater when, in 1998, in a trip to Rio de Janeiro, she found out that there would be a storytellers international event. She attended it and was carried back to her childhood and her grandmother’s stories. She had just found out what she wanted to do as her new job.
“I started to research Arab stories, African tales”, she says. Today, at 41 years old, she can’t even tell how many stories she has memorized and says the audience of each event takes part on selecting the stories to be told. “Many of them I learned just hearing them, but I also like to read. The stories arise according to the audience. I never know the stories that will come up. I don’t like to go [to the events] with the program set beforehand. I’m always very open. The performances are never the same”, she explains.
In her repertoire, Haddad has stories from many backgrounds, such as Portuguese and Brazilian, but two sources are her favorites. “I usually follow the trail of Arab and African tales, which is more of my scene. I could tell stories for days at a time”, she reveals.
And which one is her favorite? “Prince Adil and the Lions”, she says. Adil was an Arab prince. Upon turning 18 years old, he expects his father to give him a sumptuous gift, but he’s given a challenge instead: to face the lion that lives near the palace. Scared, Adil decides to flee, but everywhere he goes he sees a lion, until he arrives at a beautiful palace, in which he falls in love with a princess. Realizing that he could not get married being a coward, he decides to go back to his kingdom to face the lion as his father had asked. Upon entering the place where the animal lived, the animal jumps up and starts to lick his boots. Surprised, the prince hears from his father that he didn’t need to kill the animal, but that the challenge was to face it.
“The Arab tales are teaching tales”, says the storyteller. And she takes these teachings to several places. In Portugal, where she lives since 2005, she created the Storytelling School, the first and so far the only one of its kind in the country. Through it, she trains other storytellers, in addition to people that want to work in libraries or speak well in front of an audience.
In Brazil, where she lives for around three months in a year, she established a partnership with Ilha da Lua, located in the Tatuapé neighborhood, in the east side of São Paulo, where she teaches short courses in storytelling.
With her sister Sandra as a partner, Haddad also created the project Young Storytellers – Discovering New Horizons at the public school Professor Airton Arantes Ribeiro, at Jardim São Luís, São Paulo. Currently, the project works with 320 children and kids, offering storytelling workshops, voice projection, body language, writing and reading.
The storyteller also performs to different types of audiences and does coaching, lectures in festivals, conferences and national and international events and even weddings, in which she tells the groom and bride’s love story.
Besides Portuguese, Haddad also tells stories in English and Spanish. But it’s in her native language that she has achieved public recognition abroad. In 2015, she was voted the best storyteller in Portuguese at the Belgian festival Alden Biesen. The event, which focuses solely in storytelling, welcomed more than 35 storytellers, each one telling stories in their own languages. The selection was made by an audience that included Portuguese and Brazilian people.
To know more about the work of Haddad, visit the storyteller’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ClaraHaddadNarradora/.
*Translated by Sérgio Kakitani