As a volunteer teacher's aide in the 1960s, Mattie Clark began telling stories to children at the former Harrison Elementary School in Minneapolis. Word of her skill spread quickly, and it wasn't long before she was relaying stories about African-American culture learned from her grandmother to students at other Minneapolis schools and beyond. She did that for more than 40 years.
"It grew into a full-time career," said her husband of 53 years, Danny, of Minneapolis. "She'd just pull you in."
Clark died of a blood clot Feb. 16 at Walker Methodist Health Center in south Minneapolis. She was 69.
Although children were her primary audience, Clark spun her yarns at libraries, nursing homes, churches, homeless shelters, businesses and colleges. She was a frequent guest at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Minnesota History Center and the Science Museum of Minnesota, and at events put on by the Twin Cities Black Storytellers Alliance, Young Audiences of Minnesota and Black History Month celebrations.
She won an Esteemed Elder's Award from the National Association of Black Storytellers in 2006 and frequently attended that organization's national conferences.
"Mattie Clark was one of the first people I knew of who did storytelling in the community, long before the rest of us thought of doing storytelling as a performance art," said Nothando Zulu.
In the 1980s, Clark wrote a column called "Diamond in the Rough" for the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. In it, she highlighted accomplishments and good deeds done by citizens of her beloved Minneapolis.
"She was very much a champion of the people in the community," said the newspaper's publisher, Tracey Williams-Dillard.
Clark's voice was heard on radio station KMOJ (89.9 FM), where she hosted a gospel music show and interviewed guests.
She was a Sunday school teacher, director of the Women's Department and oversaw missionaries at the First Church of God in Christ in Minneapolis, where she was a longtime member.
Known for her laugh and "being full of sunshine," the graduate of Minneapolis North High School held a number of jobs to supplement her storytelling income, including working at the post office, the Northside Resident Redevelopment Council and coordinating community crime prevention efforts.
In addition to her husband, Clark is survived by two sons, Danny Jr. and Stevan, both of Minneapolis; two daughters, Gwendolyn Kates of Milwaukee and Cynthia Satterfield of Country Club Hills, Ill.; 11 sisters, Bertha Griffin of Benton Harbor, Mich.; Lola Johnson, Annette Anthony, Patricia Anthony and Leniece Johnson, all of Chicago; Martha Causey and Mary Ann Goodwin, both of Robbins, Ill.; Gloria Bean of Blue Island, Ill.; Brenda Peoples of South Bend, Ind.; Tanya Anthony and Floreane Anthony, both of Minneapolis; 11 brothers, Lee Anthony Jr., J.C. Anthony and James Anthony, all of Chicago; Charles Fairchild and Walter Fairchild, both of Los Angeles; Roy Fairchild of Atlanta; Clifton Anthony of Las Vegas; Handy Peoples of Baltimore; Michael Peoples, Andrew Peoples and Perry Peoples, all of Robbins, Ill.; six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Services have been held.