I received a lovely email from Jeanette about two weeks ago. In it, she said, I’ve received your newsletter for about six months. There’s always something to be learned to help me move forward as a storyteller. Thereafter, Jeanette requested an interview and I was more than happy to do so. I have enjoyed this interview and indeed, I have learned what the KiSwahili word for creativity is. Want to know what this is? Keep reading. Here’s Jeanette W. Vaughn;s story.
Aneeta: Jeanette, thank you for writing in to request that I interview you.
Jeanette: Aneeta, I was surprised at your quick response. Thank you for the opportunity to talk about my love for storytelling and stories.
Aneeta:Thank you! We aim to please. Let’s start with you. Please, tell me a little about you – where did you grow up, what do you do for a living, where do you live now?
Jeanette: I am a southern county girl at heart. I grew up in Sparta, Hancock County Georgia, about 2 hours southeast of Atlanta. I went to college in the Midwest and lived there for many years and finally moved to Atlanta 22 years ago to be closer to my family. My mother is now 88 and needed some assistance to continue living in her own home. I moved back to my hometown at the end of 2006. The change is a challenge, both adjusting to the small town (the closest grocery store is 25 min. away, we have two stop lights and Family Dollar is the only chain store.) and the change in my storytelling market.
I’m not retired so earning a living does present a challenge. I’m primary caretaker for my mom, making full time work impossible. I perform at local venues, schools, libraries and I am ghost writing a book on African-American funeral rituals. The book is titled “The Final Performance.”
Aneeta: How and when did you first become interested in storytelling?
Jeanette: I’ve been interested in stories most of my life. As a child, I’d follow my dad around making up stories and singing. Both he and my mom were great storytellers. They passed the gift on and nurtured it. I didn’t know anyone made a living doing this until about 15 years ago. My sister gave me a brochure on the National Storytelling Network. I read the brochure and put it in a file thinking, “No one is going to pay me to tell stories.” About eight years ago I was cleaning out that file, found the brochure and threw it away, thinking, “No one is going to pay me to tell stories.”
About that same time, I wanted to make a career change. I owned a children’s consignment store and was growing weary of the business. After about six months of searching for a new career, I literally heard the voice of God telling me to pursue storytelling. I’m hard of hearing and He had to clarify exactly what He was telling me. Finally I understood and began pursuing a career as a professional storyteller about seven years ago.
Aneeta: I understand you’re part of a website called Kuumba Storytellers of Georgia – http://www.kuumbastorytellers.org . What is the focus of this website? Actually, what does the word ‘Kuumba’ mean?
Jeanette: Kuumba is an African word, KiSwahili, meaning creativity. Creativity (Kuumba) is one of the seven principles of Kwanzaa (first fruits). Kwanzaa is an African-American cultural celebration-taking place between Dec. 26 and Jan. 1st. A different principle is celebrate each day. Storytelling draws on our creativity and connects us to our heritage.
The Kuumba Storytellers of Georgia is based in Atlanta, GA and is focused on preserving and perpetuating the art of African/African-American oral storytelling tradition. The membership is inclusive of all storytellers that want to embrace our mission. In Nov. 2007, Kuumba is hosting the National Association of Black Storytellers in Atlanta.
Aneeta:On the website, you’ve categorised your storytelling events into ‘Education’, ‘Business’, ‘Social’ and ‘Community’. Would you care to explain how each one of these functions and how they differ from the others?
Jeanette: I find that it is often difficult for potential clients to envision how storytelling might be beneficial to their programs. Most often storytelling performances are considered appropriate for children only.
The different categories are my way of helping the client to imagine how storytelling would fit with what they are doing. Education is most obvious, schools and libraries. For business owners, I perform at corporate banquets, sales workshops and new employee orientations. Social events include birthday parties, retirements, family reunions and community events include festivals, church programs, art and craft shows.
These categories are all similar in that the host wants to achieve a certain goal. They differ in the audience and intended goal. With many social and community events, the age range and number of guest as often unknown. This requires me to be flexible. With Business and educational events, there’s usually a captive audience and I know exactly how many will be there and what the age spread.
Aneeta:It also says you’re an author. What have you published?
Jeanette: I was featured as the children’s short story writer in Southwest Atlanta Magazine for about six months. I created an original short story to enhance each issue’s theme. I am presently writing freelance articles for the local newspaper. I have several projects on the drawing board. I’m planning a book on growing up in the rural south, “Nappy Heads, Barefeet and Watermelon”, an untitled book helping children understand death and a book about male twins.
Aneeta: What can we expect from you as a storyteller?
Jeanette: I want my audience to feel engaged, encouraged and inspired. The tag line I use is “Weaving a web of words that educate, encourage and entertain. My performances are high energy, tailored to the specific occasion and personable. I enjoy being with the audience. We are partners and it is this collaboration that brings out the best in each of us. When I step on stage, my problems fade and I am there to uplift the audience.
Aneeta: Under a heading ‘Value of Storytelling’, you’ve posted quotes from 2 people. What I’d like to know is what do you consider to be the value of storytelling?
Jeanette: After performing in thousands of venue, the list continues to grow. Storytelling is valuable because it connects us to each other, reminds us of what it means to be human and calls us to our highest and best self. Stories are how we learn and also how we can best teach.
Aneeta: As you know, this website caters for storytellers. What advice would you give them?
Jeanette: Have fun. The more you enjoy what you’re doing, the more you are able to survive the ups and downs. Storytelling, like any other profession, has both positive and negative aspects. Connect with others in the arts and don’t limit yourself to storytellers. Learn to be a good business owner so you can earn a decent living. Invest in yourself and your art form, take classes, attend festivals, read books and magazines, subscribe to e-zines like this one.
Aneeta: Jeanette, this is all I have to ask. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Jeanette: I want to encourage storytellers to take seriously the responsibility inherent in our art form. When we stand before an audience, our words are permanently stored in their memory banks. Let’s make sure what we say will serve our audience well. Let us determine that we will do no harm.
Aneeta: Jeanette, thank you.
Jeanette: It was my pleasure to share with your readers. I look forward to the newsletter each month. I am assured that you will include something to help me on my journey as a storyteller. Thank you for providing this forum and the newsletter. Both are valuable resources.
This piece may NOT be freely reprinted. Please contact editor @ howtotellagreatstory.com for reprint rights.