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About the storyteller

Ziyadliwa is the stage name of Suzanne Whitby, a performance storyteller from South Africa  based in beautiful Innsbruck, who tells wise, witty and wonder-filled tales that entertain, inspire, delight, and provoke thought.

The third-person biography

Well-known for her vibrant stage presence, wry humour and high-energy performance style, Suzanne is a traditional, oral storyteller with a knack for turning an ancient art into a joyful contemporary experience. Proudly South African and a long-time resident of beautiful Innsbruck, Austria, Suzanne has lived and worked in the UK, France, the United States, and Australia, and travelled the globe, collecting stories on her journeys.

Just as likely to share a 5-minute tale as she is to perform a 90-minute set, Suzanne draws on a repertoire of over 200 folktales, traditional tales, myths, legends, epics and world folklore as well as true tales, , geostories, historical tales, and original stories.

Endlessly curious, her performances touch on topics as diverse as medieval women, Celtic folklore, environmental disruption, love and death, bog bodies, the African savannah, Greek mythology, the plight of the ocean, Indian epics, urban legends, Japanese Tengu, grim fairy tales, climate change, and weird stories that have to be heard to be believed.

Suzanne tells tales throughout Europe and has told as far away as Southern Africa and the USA. She can be found in cellar bars, smart theatres, universities, offices, schools, and at festivals, conferences, private parties and corporate events.

Suzanne loves interesting projects and is always open to work with others, try new things, and use stories and storytelling in different ways.

Telling stories about the earth, the environment, and climate change

Suzanne is active in raising awareness about climate change and environmental disruption as a sustainability consultant and climate communicator. As an oral storyteller and performance artist, she is interested in the power of the arts in provoking thought, starting conversations, and shifting thinking around some of the most pressing challenges of our time. She regularly participates in panel discussions, collaborates with other artists, and creates shows and stories with this in mind.

Have an event coming up where the intersection of art, sustainability, and communication is a theme? Get in touch – Suzanne would love to hear from you.

The meaning of Ziyadliwa

Although storytelling, stories, and literacy are my passions, I have an alternate persona who runs a successful business in the commercial world.  When I first started storytelling, I used my name but things became complicated: my corporate clients wanted to know why I also presented myself as an oral storyteller and my storytelling audiences found it hard to reconcile me with my business character!  So a storytelling name was needed.

I brainstormed for years (not even a slight exaggeration), finding names that were okay but not quite right.  Then!  Serendipity stuck. I started a series of German classes and my teacher’s name was “Kerasia” which means “Cherry Tree” in Greek.  My earliest memory of telling stories was as a 4 or 5-year-old child, up in the boughs of our walnut tree (see above) and I thought “Ohh, I’ll call myself ‘Walnut Tree’ in Zulu.”  This felt perfect for me as it reflects a personal story and my childhood home.

Sadly, my basic Zulu did not include the vocabulary I needed.  After some discussion with friends, I discovered that “Walnut Tree” was in fact “Ziyadliwa Umuthi” and that felt a bit too long.  I reduced the name down to Ziyadliwa and voila! Walnut in Zulu. A new name. 

That means that I am, officially, a walnut. Or a nutty storyteller. Or a walnut storyteller. Hmm! A name that leaves me open to some teasing from those in the know , but I’m a big girl and can take it!

In her own words

My real name is Suzanne Whitby and I have been collecting and listening to stories for as long as I can remember. Since 2010, I have been telling stories, performing storytelling shows and delivering storytelling workshops in a range of venues, including schools, museums, libraries, festivals, restaurants, private venues, and conservation and heritage sites.

An avid reader born and raised in South Africa, on a continent renowned for its wealth of traditional tales, it’s hardly surprising that I would one day work with stories.  In fact, my earliest recollection of telling stories is as a child where I was often found up a walnut tree spinning weird and wonderful tales for the tree’s many inhabitants, each walnut playing a diverse range of roles that included tricksters and the tricked, princesses, lovers, wicked kings, fairies and magical folk, and whatever else happened to take my fancy!

My passion for traditional tales, folk tales, myths and legends stems from my voracious appetite for books and over 20 years of travelling, living and working in a variety of places across the globe.

I came to oral storytelling whilst attending a communication conference and seeing an oral storyteller in action. I had a lightning-bolt moment and knew that I was hooked. I immediately reached out to a number of well-known storytellers in Ireland, England and the United States, started a regular storytelling group, became a board member of Rocky Mountain Storytellers and otherwise immersed myself in the world of oral storytelling and traditional tales.

The rest, as they say, is history, and I’ve been working as a professional storyteller ever since.

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I love the monthly storytelling shows in Innsbruck at Max Standard. Every month, Ziyadliwa takes us on a new journey, filled with stories that I’ve seldom heard. It’s a small venue, so we get to see every action, hear every nuance. All with a cup of hot chocolate or a glass of wine in hand. A perfect evening out!

- Tracey Saunders

Find

Innsbruck, Austria

Call Ziyadliwa

+43 660 378 2939