MOORESTOWN – Sitting in the bright living room area of the Perkins Center for the Arts in Moorestown, Karen “Queen Nur” Abdul-Malik’s face lights up and her eyes dance around when she talks about storytelling and her artistry.
Abdul-Malik is an international storyteller and teaching artist. She travels around the country and sometimes around the world telling stories. She’s been to Canada and Ghana on storytelling trips, and does about 170 storytelling appearances and events each year.
“It’s my passion, it’s my mission,” said Abdul-Malik, who has performed in 38 states. “The one thing that I don’t have to think about is what my purpose is. Between the storytelling and tradition keeping and helping people to understand the value of their tradition.
“And even in tradition keeping, even in folklore and folk arts, how does that come to be known? Through story. The story has to be told and the story has to be passed on.”
The longtime Willingboro resident is also the director of the Folklife Center for Perkins Center for the Arts, which has locations in Moorestown and Collingswood. She’s had that part-time position since November but has worked with Perkins as a teaching artist for about two decades.
“I’ve been an artist since I was 9 years old,” the 59-year-old said. “My father used to record me — I used to write poetry — and he used to record me to jazz. So my father was my first producer, so I’ve been an artist, I guess, all of my life.
“Even in high school, I used to recite poetry. Between that, between being an artist. And my father steeped us in black history and the precedence of always looking for the African precedent. When we did reports, and I went to Catholic school, when we did reports I always had to research on African Americans and some part of our history.”
Those combinations of passions led her to her life’s work.
While she’s lived in Willingboro for about 30 years, Abdul-Malik is a Philadelphia native. Her family moved to the Pennsylvania suburbs when she was 9. She attended Abington High School, then graduated from Northeastern University in Boston with a degree in criminal justice.