Speaker performs native poet’s works

Bobby Norfolk acts out a short story by Langston Hughes.

Bobby Norfolk acts out a short story by Langston Hughes.

Nathan Carter

It is difficult to tell now, but Bobby Norfolk used to be a poor speaker.

“I stuttered terribly,” Norfolk said. “But this teacher saw this essence in me I didn’t. She put me in drama class, and in glee club, and in choral, and in talent shows. Whenever I performed, I didn’t stutter. The next day, it came back.”

One night at home, he saw country singer Mel Tillis on Johnny Carson’s show.

“He could sing as smooth as silk, but he spit all over Johnny Carson’s suit,” he said.

His drama teacher just told him to calm down, breath deeply and meditate to make the stutter go away. The stutter went away.

“I have no idea where it went, and I don’t care. I’m standing on her shoulders, big time,” he said.

After school, he went to college at University of Missouri – St. Louis to be journalism major, but graduated with more history credits. He became a park ranger at the Gateway Arch.

Ten years later, Norfolk started a business and became a traveling performer. His latest local performance was for Joplin Public Library’s monthly Coffee Talk to perform selected works of Langston Hughes.

Norfolk gave high-energy performances of several of Hughes’ works, including “Conversations with Simple,” “A Dream Deferred” and “The Creation.” He also gave valuable background information about the poet and the circumstances surrounding the writing process of each of Hughes’ works.

“I thought it was delightful and very informative,” said Mary Ann Edwards, who attended the performance. “I of course knew about Langston Hughes, but not in the depth that he presented.”

The Coffee Talk program has been running for almost a year and a half at 10 a.m. on the first Tuesday of every month at the Joplin Public Library.

“Coffee Talk is an informative series designed to help bring people from the community into the library,” said Mark Shuster, assistant circulation supervisor and coordinator for the Coffee Talk series. “I think it’s just something interesting for people to come to and it doesn’t cost anything.”

Shuster encourages any local groups to contact him at the library if they wish to perform or to come in any time. The next Coffee Talk will be held on March 3, where actor Gregg Higginbotham will perform as Frank James, brother of famous outlaw Jesse James. Anyone is welcome to come.