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Self-Discovery in the Story Circle

Here, you can:

  • Read a story from the Liberation Station Black Lit Library 
  • See Claire Alexandre’s portrait of Stormie Daie and take home a souvenir postcard 
  • Create, build and play with art supplies and natural materials 
  • Connect with your family, friends and community of neighbors (including plants!) 

Find the Story Circle in the Discovery Garden at Duke Gardens (enter at D3 on the map).


Self-Discovery in the Story Circle

Self-Discovery in the Story Circle is a new feature within Duke Gardens designed to promote diversity, representation, belonging and children’s self-exploration. The newly redesigned space incorporates literature, art and diverse perspectives to expand the Gardens' outdoor educational offerings for children. 

Features in This Space

The Black Lit Library, a curated collection of children’s books featuring diverse protagonists and characters of color, will have a permanent home in the Story Circle. These books will be available for visitors to read and use in the space whenever the Gardens are open. These books will be displayed alongside art installations that highlight a diversity of perspectives on plants, ecology and environmental science. You can read more about the Black Lit Library here.

Duke Gardens is pleased to partner with local artist Claire Alexandre for the opening installation. Claire is a Diaspora child, abolitionist feminist storyteller and student of ecologies who weaves autobiographical reflections with ancestral wisdom. Through mixed media paintings and street art, she infuses detailed portraits with notions of struggles and strength that exist at the intersection of environmental, gender and racial justice. She seeks to deepen our collective understanding of community prosperity and its close ties with sustainable land stewardship. She considers her paintings portals that carry the responsibility of offering alternative versions of the world, ones that encourage us to go beyond colonial conditioned understandings of who we are, who we can be and what our duty on this earth is. See Claire Alexandre's website to learn more.

For this partnership, Claire chose to honor a talented drag artist and local community leader: Stormie Daie. Stormie Daie is a science and history educator with a background in ecology and experience with children’s education. Duke Gardens is excited to partner with Stormie to provide programming for visitors, including “Science with Stormie” at the Harvest Festival. See this article for more information about Stormie Daie.

Welcoming and Building Community

Through this project, we want to increase representation and welcome children and families with historically marginalized identities, while having critical conversations about the past to create an inclusive future. We want to celebrate and recognize the many forms of knowledge about plants and expand science communication by highlighting intersections between art, literature, representation and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). We want to strengthen and build relationships with diverse community members and organizations and recognize leaders and trailblazers in Durham history.

Claire Alexandre's Artist Statement

This portrait is an homage to Stormie Daie of the House of Coxx and AfroCarolina*. Stormie is a scientist, storyteller and Durham legend. She is fiercely committed to her people and to creating a safe, vibrant, abundant future for us all. The plants featured in this piece all came up during a few conversations I had with Stormie about her youth, her family and her relationship to the local landscape as a Southern Black queer. Adorning Stormie's crown are flowers of the personal and powerful. At the base, three okra blossoms, a symbol of Black pride and African legacy. In the middle lie small purple crocus flowers, the first signs of spring ahead, and with it, new life and possibilities. Finally, extending upwards, five peace lilies, flowers associated with the dead and grieving, a reminder that the work we do is also as much in honor of the ones we have lost as it is for those we have yet to meet.  

Stormie stands in a field of vivid green by a river. An ecosystem of betweens, the estuary learns to navigate a life of salt and sweet. Stormie is conjuring a storm, bringing new water from distant lands back to the river where she stands. Reminiscent of an AfroCarolina deity, she is at home in the water, the grasses, the red clay and pine trees. Around the stone upon which she rests grow goldenrods and pitcher plants. There is a powerful photograph of Emma Dupree, an Afrocarolinian herbalist who lived to be 99, gathering an abundance of goldenrod. When fall is near and I see these flowers start to bloom on the sides of roads, I always think of her. She represents the tradition of Black Southern women working and knowing the secrets of plants for their community and their freedom. Stormie Daie, who studied ecology and now frequently shares her knowledge with children in the forms of workshop sessions titled "science with Stormie," is one who shines in Emma Dupree's legacy. Pitcher plants are one of many carnivorous species endemic to North Carolina. Their vibrancy is dazzling and their self defense mechanisms lethal. May we be inspired by these plants to be ourselves at all times and embody the strongest of boundaries. 

Wrapped around the stone are yellow jessamine flowers, a native to North Carolina. The scent of these flowers was described by Harriet Ann Jacobs in her autobiography "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl," as the "smell of freedom." In the background we see a cypress tree standing tall, another plant that is intertwined with the freedom of Black folks in the South. Coastal maroon communities, escaping the violence of the plantation, like Harriet Jacobs did, would have learned to develop a kinship with trees such as the cypress, in which they could find shelter, hideouts, navigational markers. 

Finally, framing Stormie's window is handmade paper I created using magnolia leaves gathered from Good Soil Gardens and oatstraw gathered from Earthseed Land Collective — two lands in Durham stewarded by Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) — along with pages from an old book titled "How to Grow Camellias" and some dried leaves from Duke Gardens. It was important for me to go beyond representing place and actually create a material that held this sense of where we are in this moment (spatially and in time). 

The story of the Black Diaspora has deep roots with local ecologies across the world. This painting participates in a growing movement that seeks to undo the harm of white settler supremacy's understanding of "the outdoors" as a thing to be consumed, extracted from or only belonging to the enjoyment of a certain race and class of people. Stormie's portrait disrupts and mends all at once — it breaks stereotypes of who we expect to see standing in a wild field awaiting a storm, and it  makes space for us, particularly queer, trans, Black, Indigenous and people of color (QTBIPOC), to imagine ourselves, in all our complexities and expansiveness, as belonging to the world. 

*AfroCarolina is a notion birthed by folklorist Michelle Lanier. 

In conversation with Stormie Daie

These quotes have been condensed and edited for clarity.

I think representation is really important. I think when we talk about social justice and we talk about the world needing to change to be better for the people that are in it, we often leave out young people. Children can't advocate for themselves, or rather, can't be somewhere without a parent or guardian taking them there to advocate for themselves. I think one of the biggest ways that that comes up in society is children's media and children's socialization. What often gets left out is culture, race, history, activism and social justice. Specifically, growing up as a young person in the South, I did not see myself often reflected in media. I did not see myself praised or included.

All of that is what led me to really become the character Stormie Daie. I wanted to read to children, to talk about science, to infuse my entertainment on stage with my love of education, and to also really take my background in environmental and ecological science and start actually infusing it into my drag and start trying to teach children and show up in drag and have conversations with kids. I'm getting to be an educator. I'm getting to work in places where I came as a child on very rare occasions, but cherished moments, like walking the gardens.

Never would I have thought of seeing a Black femme person, a Black person for the most part at all, pop up in the gardens and be here represented. We're seeing a cascade and it's wonderful to be a part of the energy that's turning in this area to support local, to support minority, support Black, support women, support queer communities. To really try to gather all of the people that call Durham, or call the Triangle, or call North Carolina, home and represent us in our own places and the places that we even went as children? It just feels good and it feels right.

I want to make sure that Durham doesn't get overlooked for the work we do, for the history that we have, for the people here that make Durham great. I want to make sure that the people who have been here, who have been doing the work, are getting the recognition. My hope is that artists in Durham, that community workers in Durham, like the people who are behind this project, will continue to look and find people who are in this area to work with them — so that they'll work with someone else, and again, like a train. That we'll all just keep connecting together to make these joint realities real. And also, I think, making a memorial, memento, of us. Of what Durham is in this moment. Because Durham's gonna go on and be something else, and that's how change and that's how life happens, but it's nice to have this season right now. 

I hope that this is something that will inspire the next generation, that it's something that will connect people to Durham and they'll be like, "Oh, that's right. I know where Durham is. I know what Durham history means. I know where Black Wall Street is. I know what the Hayti is." And also maybe they'll learn something as well, and being like, you know, "I now know what a mallow plant is. I know where hibiscus grows." Or, "I know that I can find this back in Duke Gardens and go see it myself." Even if I can't travel somewhere, I can meet someone here and we can share this space together and we can begin to have our own conversations about cicadas chirping in the summer, or listening to crickets while it's hot outside.

If we cherish children, if we cherish education, if we cherish nature, if we cherish community, then we have to start showing that those things are important. And I think this is the best place to start.

Made possible by:

Victoria Scott-Miller, Liberation Station owner and curator of the Black Lit Library 

Claire Alexandre, artist and Duke graduate 

Stormie Daie, community leader, children’s educator, drag artist, with a background in environmental science and ecology 

Amal Dadi, a master’s candidate in bioethics and science policy at Duke University, secured initial grant funding through the Kenan Institute for Ethics (KIE). Amal was a Race and the Professions Fellow at KIE from 2021–2022. 

Additional funding and other support was provided by Duke Gardens.