Subhanallah Brown Ali, retired Enoch Pratt librarian and storyteller, dies

Subhanallah Ali, a retired Enoch Pratt Library children's librarian, was an accomplished storyteller.
Subhanallah Ali, a retired Enoch Pratt Library children's librarian, was an accomplished storyteller. (Handout)

Subhanallah Brown Ali, a retired Enoch Pratt Free Library manager, died of pulmonary ailment complications Feb. 20 at her Springdale Avenue home. She was 73.

Sylvia Simmons was the daughter of Floyd Simmons, a Koppers Co. foundry worker, and his wife Vivian, a homemaker. She was the fifth child, and first daughter, of the family’s eight children.


She was born in Baltimore and raised in the Edgar Allan Poe Homes in West Baltimore.

She was a 1963 graduate of Frederick Douglass High School, and received a bachelor’s degree in 1976 from the Homestead-Montebello Center of Antioch University, later Sojourner-Douglass College. In 1991 she obtained a master’s degree at Sojourner-Douglass.


She joined the Enoch Pratt Free Library and served at its Reservoir Hill center at Park Avenue and Reservoir Street as a children’s librarian.

She also became a dancer with the Maria Broom DanceBringers and the Flair Dance Studio at Mondawmin Mall in the 1960s and 1970s.

“She was gregarious and had an open personality,” said Stanley Bunjo Butler, a retired Enoch Pratt librarian and fellow storyteller. “She was a writer, too, and could sing. And she had a great gift for sharing the African oral tradition.”

Ms. Ali performed in local plays and co-directed plays for the Department of Parks and Recreation. She also designed and sold jewelry at local fairs.

“She was a passionate storyteller of African folktales as a member of the Griot Circle of Baltimore, and performed all over Maryland,” said her sister, Carolyn “Jumoke” Boston of Baltimore.

“When Subhanallah was a little girl, her mother shared stories about the trials, tribulations and joys of growing up in Gainesville, Ga. during the 1930s,” he sister said. “A storyteller was born; and she, naturally, became the family historian and loved sharing the family narratives.”

She also wrote an annual family newsletter, The Jordan Family Times.

Ms. Ali went on to become the manager of the Pratt Library’s Washington Village Center, After her retirement from Pratt, she became a librarian at Sojourner-Douglass College.

“She bonded well with young people, and all the patrons at the Washington Village Center,” said her Pratt colleague, Mr. Butler. “It was not a library branch but a center, and she had an ability to touch base with all different age levels in that small space.”

Theresa Edmonds, who is in the programs department at the Pratt Central Library, recalled Ms. Ali as “an excellent storyteller. She mesmerized you.”

“She had a wonderful personality. You saw it in her smile,” said Ms. Edmonds. “In December, she and other storytellers would come to the Central Library’s children’s department and tell their stories before a working fireplace. I’ll never forget Subhanallah.”

As a member of the National Association of Black Storytellers, she traveled around Maryland and held workshops in storytelling. She was also an enthusiast of African American classical jazz and attended live musical shows.


Ms. Ali retained friendships with the Poe Homes neighbors she knew as a child and assisted in organizing annual reunions of them.

“She had a lively personality, a great sense of humor, an infectious smile and a positive outlook on life,” said her sister. “She made a round of phone calls to close friends and family every day.

“When asked how she felt, she always responded: ‘I’m feeling ab fab — absolutely fabulous,” Ms. Boston said.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. April 15 at the March Life Tribute Center, Old Court Road.

In addition to her sister, survivors include a son, Stephen Brown; a daughter, Khristen Brown, both of Baltimore; three brothers, Floyd Simmons Jr. of Huntington Beach, Calif., and Charles Simmons and Jamal Simmons, both of Baltimore; another sister, Madinah Simmons, also of Baltimore; five grandchildren; and 10 great grandchildren.

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