Thursday, November 22, 2007

North Carolina Storytelling Guild’s 9th Annual Storytelling Festival

Wow, wow, wow! These are my immediate words to describe the North Carolina Storytelling Guild’s annual storytelling festival held in downtown Brevard, NC on Saturday November 3rd, at the lovely new Transylvania County Public Library. What could be better than a beautiful mountain setting with the surrounding community coming out to support storytelling? When I arrived home the following day I was still floating with excitement.

Being our best festival yet, I wonder, “How can it get any better?” Our featured North Carolina storytellers, Bill Friedman, Dianne Hackworth, Charlotte Hamlin, Janet Harllee, Terry Rollins and Wayne and Jane Sims were well polished in story and in stage presence. And of course Bill Harley, the library’s guest teller, set the tone for the entire day. Bill, otherwise known as “The Garrison Keillor for kids”, received a standing ovation at his last stage appearance on Saturday night, which prompted him to do an encore.

Stories and music carried the audience from laughter, to amazement, to intrigue, to the very poignant moments. Even with a nearly filled auditorium on Saturday evening, I witnessed the silence of the audience during those more serious and breathtaking moments.

If you have never attended a storytelling festival you don’t know what you are missing. Storytelling is for all ages, from the very young to the “young at heart”. The majority of listeners at this festival were adults who seemed to soak up every single minute of it! Check out our North Carolina Storytelling Guild website to learn more -

Saturday, June 30, 2007

On the Road to Eastern NC

I am reflecting on my travels just over a week ago to Clinton, NC, which is located in Sampson County. I spoke at the Sampson County Hall of Fame induction ceremony on June 21st where the county’s namesake, Colonel John Sampson, was posthumously inducted. Historian, Joel Rose nominated Sampson for this award and spoke of some of his achievements. This event took place at the Sampson County Exposition center.

It was exciting to participate in the celebration of this bit of history in eastern North Carolina. As a storyteller I am constantly reminded of the importance of history around us. Our local history is a part of our lives and helps explain how we arrived in our present day status. We, as individuals, must also remember our own family history in order to appreciate and wonder of “how and why” we are where we are today. There is so much that we tend take for granted.

It is so refreshing when I visit communities such as this where folks are so friendly and so genuine. My husband and I stayed in a lovely bed and breakfast there which was delightful. While there we visited the Sampson County History Museum in downtown Clinton. We were impressed with the interesting history that has been collected and on display within the various quaint buildings on the premises. Visit their website -

I kindly thank the Sampson County Board of Commissioners and the North Carolina Humanities Speakers’ Bureau for making this visit possible for me. Please contact me if you are looking to book a speaker/storyteller. If you are a non-profit organization you may contact the NC Humanities Speakers’ Bureau to obtain a grant for a speaker.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Memories and the Big Apple

I stood at Ground Zero in the heat of the day, yet a chill caused me to shiver, I saw Miss Liberty, I walked around Time Square, I gazed at strange people along the streets, and I attended a Broadway play. These are only a few flashbacks as I remember my trip last week.

I drove to New Jersey to be with relatives upon the death of my aunt Margaret. It was a sad time. Yet it was so memorable as I reflected with family on happier times. I was reminded of my childhood, my aunt’s youthfulness, family reunions, country cooking and fun times.

Unfortunately Alzheimer’s had snatched the enjoyment of life away from her these last few years. Well cared for, she seemed unaware of life around her. Then God sent his angels to take her soul to a perfect life on the “other side”.

My cousin and her husband convinced us “southern cousins” to stay with them an extra day so that they could take us to NYC. We endured their threat of hiding our car keys if we did not stay – by staying. And away we went to the big city. What a thrill! It had been more than 25 years since I was in NYC. I enjoyed every moment of it, including the Broadway play – The Drowsy Chaperon.

Last week’s visit to pay tribute to my Aunt Margaret shall always be a memorable experience. It was filled with pleasant memories and quality time with special cousins.

Our lives are filled with memories and memories are our stories.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Storytelling Festivals - Sure Sign of Springtime

The first day of spring has finally arrived! I had already noticed many signs that spring was on the way - flower blossoms popping their heads above ground, Bradford pears in snowy blossom, yellow forsythia bushes glowing in the sunlight, and birds merrily singing as they busied themselves in search for food and nesting spots.

Storytelling festivals also blossom in the springtime. April 24th brings Storytelling Festival 2007 to H. Leslie Perry Memorial Library in Henderson, NC. I look forward to participating in this fun festival as a regional storyteller. Children’s librarian, Claire Basney, is organizing this festival.

On May 16th, I am excited to be one of six regional tellers at NC StoryFest 2007 in Greensboro, NC. I am also looking forward to telling stories with my storytelling friends and comrades at both of these festivals. I’m currently in the process of booking other storytelling programs in addition to festivals. If you’re interested in booking a program go to my Free Consultation page on my website and get in touch with me. Or click on the E-Mail envelope found on the lower left-hand side (in the green panel) of any of my web pages.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Storytelling on the Road

Exciting events have taken place in my travels over the past eight days around the Carolinas. Eight days ago, I shared stories at the North Carolina Cattlemen’s Association Convention in Hickory, North Carolina. I quilted together stories of growing up on the farm, tied in a story from WW II and ended with a folktale about a precious stone. I used the precious stone as a symbol of the importance of telling our own life stories. The listeners were encouraged to recall their own stories and pass them on to family and friends.

On March 1-2, I participated in the Patchwork Tales Festival in Rock Hill, South Carolina. I was among 35 to 40 regional tellers from North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia who drove to various schools in York County to tell stories in 2nd grade classrooms. Yesterday I rode with Mary Smith and Millie Chaplin to Kinard Elementary School in Clover. Sharing conversations with them gave me the opportunity to get to know them – to make new friends and to do some networking.

I was impressed with the excellent students. They became so wrapped up in the stories that you could have heard a pin drop. Their listening skills impressed me very much. This was a very rewarding experience for me. I have told stories in many schools throughout the Carolinas, but these students were some of the very best! What made the visit even better was the excitement and the warm welcome that we as storytellers received from the media specialists and the teachers. I firmly believe that their excitement only serves as a positive influence on the students.

My husband and I attended the concert last evening, featuring performing artists Antonio Rocha, Eth-Noh-Tec (Nancy Wang and Robert Kikuchi-Yngojo) and Bil Lepp. We were dead tired when we returned home at midnight but it was well worth it! They put on a fantastic performance, a mixture of mime, tall tales, drama and folktales. The audience was delighted.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Planning Your Work… and Working Your Plan

As a storyteller and performer, I attended a Marketing Workshop in Greensboro, NC this past Saturday, February 17th. This free workshop, sponsored by the North Carolina Storytelling Guild, was organized by guild President, Kelly Swanson. And what a wonderful workshop it was! It was entertaining as well as a way to learn more about marketing myself as a speaker and storyteller - also to network with other fellow storytellers and writers. There is so much that we can share with one another. I have never been the best at “tooting my own horn” so this was the perfect opportunity to pick up some great tips.

The workshop was divided into three segments with Kelly, Pamela King Cable, author of Southern Fried Women and Laura Hamilton, Executive Secretary of the National Speakers Association/Carolinas as our presenters. I could tell that these ladies loved what they were doing and they gave their all. I have heard nothing but raving comments about their presentation. I continue to be on a high from the workshop and look forward to learning more from these three presenters. Kelly worked with excitement and diligence to provide this learning workshop that immediately followed the guild’s board meeting.
(You may click on their names above to learn more about them.)

Just hearing the word marketing has always frightened me. The topic seems so broad because there are so many possibilities out there when marketing oneself. I learned one simple rule from Kelly from the very beginning that seemed to console me. She said, “Don’t be overwhelmed at so many ways of marketing. Select the things that you pick up on and go with it.” Following this comment, I was definitely all ears.

I believe that hearing from these lively speakers with their diverse perspectives on marketing has given me a new perspective. Now I am geared up to cross more boundaries! My first decision was to update my websites photos and begin a new blog this week. I have intended to make changes in my site but this was the incentive to do it!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Storytelling in Our State

As a member of the North Carolina Storytelling Guild, I was thrilled when I learned the editors of Our State Magazine chose to feature “Storytelling” as the theme for their November 2006 issue. The feature began with an article about the late great storyteller, Ray Hicks, written by Lynn Salsi. Ray was known as the master of storytelling and was the forerunner of the storytelling revival that began in the 1970’s. He carried on the oral tradition of his ancestors. They brought their own folklore stories with them as they migrated to the Appalachian Mountains. These stories included the Jack Tales, which Ray just loved to tell. He loved them so well that he was sometimes considered to be “Jack” himself.

It is a great honor for me to have been selected as one of nine North Carolina storytellers who were featured in this issue. Storytelling profiles included Connie Regan-Blake, Sheila Kay Adams & husband, Jim Taylor, Willa Brigham, Jerry Wolfe, Joan Leotta, Ron Jones, Marvin Cole, Wright Clarkson, and myself..

Reprinted with permission from
Our State magazine [November 2006, page 108-109] and from the author.

Sylvia Payne:

Adding Dimension

By Tom Kerr

When Sylvia Payne recalls being called on by her fifth grade teacher to speak in front of the class, she remembers being “scared to death.”

“But I did it and survived,” she says with a smile. “Little did I know where it would lead.”

Today the Hickory resident is a professional storyteller and board member of the North Carolina Storytelling Guild (NCSG). She also serves as the current membership director and editor of the guild’s quarterly publication, Journal of Tar Heel Tellers.

Payne’s friend and fellow storyteller, Terry Rollins, launched the journal in 1994. After the NCSG was founded in 1998, Rollins brought the project into the guild, staying on as editor. When he retired from overseeing it, her fellow guild members recruited Payne to take over his duties.

Payne, who grew up in the North Carolina foothills listening to her mother’s stories, has been a teller for nearly 30 years. She travels the Southeast presenting workshops and taking the art of storytelling into schools, libraries, civic organizations, churches, colleges, and festivals. She also speaks at luncheons, banquets, and museums. And along the way she harvests new material to add to her repertoire, which includes family and personal stories, historic legends, ghost stories, and folktales from other cultures around the world.

“I began telling stories while working in the public library,” Payne explains. “My supervisor wanted to offer afterschool programs for students. She said something like, ‘We are going to learn folktales and share them with the children. We will start by learning to tell the Jack Tales.’ ”

For Payne, the assignment was a challenge. “I nearly dropped my teeth,” she admits. But she rose to the occasion — and the podium — and, in the process, discovered her true calling.

Payne believes that we are all storytellers in our own way. “To be most effective, the storyteller must be in the moment,” she says. “The narrator or the teller becomes the force in the story.”

Ironically, Payne says that the words themselves play only a minor part in the telling of a good tale.

“If you were to read the same phrase in print, the entire meaning would be lost. You only have one dimension — words. That’s it. Telling a story is quite different from writing one. When you read a story or narrative on the printed page, it is flat.”

Unexpected words from the mouth of a former librarian, no doubt. But Payne explains that speaking stories brings added flavor to them that is impossible to capture with ink and paper. “Telling the story orally lifts it off the page and out into the open. It’s an entirely different world, transformed into something new and fresh. It becomes alive, exciting, and imaginative.”

Journal entry

The written word does, however, have a respected and useful place within the community of professional tellers. The Journal of Tar Heel Tellers strives to keep the NCSG members connected. Each issue includes a message from the organization’s president, a calendar of storytelling events, a thought-provoking quote, interesting tidbits of news about members, and a brief editor’s note. The journal also reviews books and CDs published and released by members and features a different North Carolina storyteller in almost every issue.

Articles cover topics like how to adapt and craft a story, true accounts of “storytelling nightmares where things go dreadfully wrong before or during a storytelling performance,” and news of workshops and festivals sponsored by the guild and by storytelling groups around the state and beyond. One recent issue featured journal contributors’ “growing up” stories about experiences during their younger years.

What the quarterly publication doesn’t provide, however, are tips about how to count money faster. “We used to get lots of calls from people who thought the journal was a trade publication for the banking industry,” Payne says with a laugh. “They figured we were a guild of Tar Heel bank tellers.”

Reaching an audience

A tale well told will transport those who hear it, on the wings of their own imagination, to a destination that is often a place of adventurous or uplifting self-discovery, Payne says. One of her most memorable storytelling moments was when she was invited to tell stories for Hospice for Kids. While talking to the program’s organizer, Payne learned that the children all suffered from grief due to the loss of someone dear to them. What they really needed, the woman explained to her, was to hear stories about people who faced adversity and overcame it.

“When I hung up the phone, I knew that facing my worst enemy would be a piece of cake compared to this bombshell just dropped into my lap,” Payne says. “What stories could I possibly tell that would teach kids as young as five about overcoming adversity?”

About midway into the program, Payne realized that the children were motionless, gazing at her with absolute attention. “‘This is unbelievable,’” she remembers thinking. “It was like they were frozen in time.” After the program, a number of the children came forward to hug Payne and thank her for sharing her stories with them.

“I was given something to share with them, something that reached into the depths of each little soul. I drove away with tears in my eyes, humbled that my horrible nightmare had turned into such a rewarding experience.

“We must give hope through the stories that we tell,” believes Payne.

“As God’s creatures, all of us experience many of the same internal feelings, such as fear, need for love, frustration, hope or hopelessness, joy, and sadness.

I want the audience to feel hope and compassion and to better understand one another through my story.”

Tom Kerr lives in Asheville.

Reprinted with permission from Our State magazine [November 2006, page 108-109] and from the author.