Everyone, no matter what age, loves a good story. And stories have been around as long as humans could communicate with each other. Our great books of wisdom are filled with stories. It is the stories we remember and internalize. A well told story makes a party worth attending, a speech worth remembering, and a class worth taking.
During the past quarter of a century, there has been an exciting resurgence of the appreciation for oral storytelling in our nation and across the world. The organization that has been instrumental is Storytelling Foundation International (SFI). To quote, “We have told stories since the beginning of time. They are the narratives of life, spanning the centuries and connecting the generations. They are the vessels in which we carry our shared adventures and most precious memories.”
Twenty-eight years ago, Jimmy Neil Smith, President and Founder of SFI, organized the first storytelling event in his town of Jonesborough, Tennessee. Smith, a former journalism teacher and then mayor describes pulling up a wagon for five storytellers to perform for a gathering of about 60 people. Today, that initial storytelling event has grown into a crowd of more than 10,000 people from 50 states and 40 countries who attend the National Storytelling Festival held the first weekend in October. Huge tents are set up, and the enthusiastic crowd of all ages, backgrounds, and interests share three days of listening to storytellers from all over the world.
The stories vary from traditional folk tales, fairy tales, personal stories, historical narrative, poetry, fables, to tall tales, ballads and songs. Some storytellers sit quietly on a chair or stool, captivating us with their voices and facial expressions. Some move around the stage with furious action. Others use mime, music, and involve members from the audience. Every telling becomes an experience.
The magic of these storytellers’ stories creates wonder, laughter, tears, applause, enlightenment, understanding, but, most important, the sharing of stories between attendees. Their stories help us to remember our stories. I have discovered that when we know someone’s story, we can’t keep from liking them. No matter what our cultural, ethnic, educational and material differences are, we all have similar stories. That’s the magic of storytelling.
In upcoming articles, I will be writing more about what is happening today in the world of storytelling, the how-tos of the art of storytelling, how to become involved with storytelling and storytellers (they are everywhere!), and the benefits, uses and power of storytelling.
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