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Storytelling: From the Heart of Human Experience

In the past twenty years, storytelling as a treasured art and pastime has made quite a comeback. Not all the video games, cable channels, or talk radio in the world can take the place of a fine story told face-to-face with good friends on a quiet evening as the rain splatters on the window panes.

Family Stories
Storytelling for Educators
Stories as Part of Business Communication
So You Want to Be a Storyteller
Storytelling on the Web

The Importance of Family Stories

 

Seems to me there is nothing that binds a family together more than its stories. What child doesn't like to hear, and re-hear, the story of the day he was born? Likewise, telling and re-telling the story of how your parents met, or how your grandparents met, or how your Uncle Chip got in trouble at the beach that summer... gives our kids connections to the past. It puts today's trials in perspective; if Uncle Chip could survive the trouble he got in, surely I can, too! It humanizes our parents, shows us there is more to them than the working adults/bread providers we see them as. It grounds us all.
-- Rhonda Belyea, professional storyteller and children's librarian, Central Rappahannock Regional Library

 

Cover to Creating a Family Storytelling TraditionScrapbooks and videorecordings are two popular ways to hold onto family memories, but the stories that have been told and retold of shared hardships and good times and how our families have grown have a value and meaning that transcends time. My husband's grandmother escaped across the mountains with her small children after the Communists cracked down on Czechoslovakia after World War II. Her husband had been part of the Resistance against the Third Reich and had narrowly escaped the firing squad. "Babi" has been gone for years now, but her story--captured on tape and transcribed to print--of their close call with the border guards will be something my children and their children will have for their own.

You may find your older family members are willing to share dramatic tales, but everyone, from the kindergartners to the grandpas, can tell an entertaining story. There are several ways to collect family stories. Sitting around the dinner table at day's end, just talking casually, works for many families, but to get the tales going, consider a storytelling game. Pass a homegrown "Talking Fork" after dinner to encourage everyone to share. If you like a bit more structure, the LifeStories game gives players, age five and up, a gentle prod to tell about something funny, something strange, a favorite teacher, a beloved friend, or other precious memories.

Storytelling for Educators

A successful teacher may use a number of tricks from the storyteller's bag to hold her students' attention and make learning more enjoyable and productive. Stories may be told to younger students with a book in hand, or some other visual aid such as a chalkboard, flannel board, or paper and scissors. Educators know that because a history book that simply lists facts and dates may be dry and hard for students to grasp, it helps to add some texture from an exciting true story such as Jack Jouett's Ride. There are other advantages to making storytelling a habit in the classroom:

 

Storytelling doesn't just open a new world to young listeners - it also helps them with reading skills like sequencing and predicting, widens their knowledge base, and enhances their vocabulary. And this all happens while kids are having a good time!
-- Caroline Parr, Youth Services Coordinator, Central Rappahannock Regional Library

Storytelling as Part of Business Communication

Odd as it may sound, one way to get over a fear of public speaking and communicate better with your audience is through storytelling. Facts, figures, statistics, even a grand opening and a grand closing aren't enough to keep your coworkers interested during a presentation. We humans instinctively listen to stories. We know there's a beginning, a middle, and a payoff at the end. Whether you're sharing tales of company productivity or telling an anecdote as part of a presentation, you'll connect better than if you were giving impersonal information. The Web site, Storytelling: Passport to the 21st Century, was created by the Smithsonian Associates to share transcripts of an international conference on the value of storytelling to the business community. These professionals recognized that storytelling in the business world, also known as organizational storytelling, could be used to effectively convey corporate values and plant the seeds of change in a company.

So You Want to Be a Storyteller

Cover to The Art of StorytellingAfter you've listened to some storytelling tapes (the library has loads!) and attended some events, you may be tempted to try your own hand at storytelling for profit, particularly if your job or outside activities do not normally give the opportunity for telling. Or, perhaps you are searching for a part-time career that's full of creativity. Before you get started, be aware that a professional storyteller, like any part-time business person, has to wear many hats. You'll be your own marketer, researcher, writer, accountant, secretary, and driver. The rewards are rich. You'll choose whether to develop a program based on your cultural connections, family stories, or history. Perhaps you can combine musical or artistic ability with your tales.

We've gathered a list of books for would-be storytellers of all kinds. Click on So You Want to Be a Storyteller for our suggestions.

Storytelling on the Web

The Ardiena Ann Tromley Family Storytelling Series
This free series of terrific tellers is made possible by the generosity of Mr. Thomas Tromley, in loving memory of his wife, Ardiena Ann Tromley. Don't miss them!

National Storytelling Festival: Jonesborough, Tennessee
This event is a warm and joyous coming-together of talented tellers and appreciative audiences in a beautiful mountain setting. If you go, don't miss out on the ghost story concerts under the stars.

StoryNet: National Storytelling Network
Storynet provides support and education for storytelling groups across the country. They host the National Storytelling Conference, publish Storytelling magazine, and provide a directory of members and a calendar of events.

Tellabration!
Since 1990, storytelling groups across the country have dedicated a night of telling stories, mostly for grown-ups, to promote a community appreciation of the art. This site has information on getting started and promoting events. Anyone can create a Tellabration site. Why not you? Would-be audience members can use the site to find a performance near them.

Virginia Storytelling Alliance
"VASA connects, supports, and exchanges information among storytellers in the Commonwealth of Virginia, United States of America. VASA welcomes professionals, hobbyists, and those interested in storytelling whether or not you currently perform publicly. We are a non-profit organization; recognition of that legal status by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service is pending."
The state organization's site has event listings, resources for tellers, and more.

Young Audiences of Virginia 
Young Audiences connects professional artists, including storytellers and musicians, with schools throughout the state. Their showcases allow educators to view and choose from a wide range of performers.