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Storytellers Wag Their Tales

by Cathy Milner Markatos


How does a person best involve others in a task larger than any one person? The Prism often gives space to the problem areas where individuals and groups are working for change.

One way is to catch people through stories that galvanize them into action.

The National Storytelling Festival the first full weekend in October each year in Jonesborough, Tennessee, draws people from throughout the region year after year. At the 25th Anniversary several tents were tucked into the downtown each holding over 200 listeners for the storytellers on stage who were scheduled alone or with other storytellers throughout the day.

Brother Blue has been educated but also spent time in the streets, mostly speaking to those who feel hopeless and are often homeless. While wandering though the streets he spins out stories to provide a sense of possibly moving beyond the present scene to a nourishing one.

Laura Simms has the crowd giving their complete attention following the heroine saving her life with 1001 stories of Arabian nights, Heather Forest shows the funny but somewhat surprising turns of Aesop fables, Ed Stivender amuses us representing the tales of Sir Gawain of the Knights of the Round Table; all present these to bring a greater awareness to current struggles and give the listener a chance to look at those situations in a new way.

This helps the person already active as well as the timid one who has just begun to move in greater realization to finding a place and a way to respond. Often the audience is encouraged to participate through music or comments. Sometimes the festival becomes a gathering place for families, friends who live in different places, those who met at the festival and meet again. This year Asian storytellers had their meeting during the festival with much time to listen to the featured tellers.

The appeal of this storytelling festival goes beyond the fascinating life-renewing stories. Clothing styles run the full range from simple to elaborate and from making a statement to quiet. Foods include the freshly picked apples and recently preserved canned food to exotic, ethnically diverse ones. The friendliness amongst the participants show a friendliness making a safe atmosphere for children. The Festival organizers encourage the audience to become storytellers by offering an exchange place to sign up to give one's own story and by asking for people to go to the library to give reminiscences of previous festivals attended.

Of course, this is not the only excellent place for storytelling. Many large gatherings have a place for storytelling amongst other activities. It can happen at a home, at a place and time allowing for this in the context of a meal or party gathering. Stories touch hearts and may find a way to enlighten or empower individuals. The characters meet travails and twists in luck that require perseverance and viewing the situation from a new angle to solve. Making connections, attempting a task for love, overcoming difficulties through wit and cleverness are as necessary in problems faced today as in the days of yore.

  Cathy Markatos is an educator at Pittsboro Presbyterian Church (part-time), teaching a preschool art class once a week, and working with her husband Jerry with Markatos Photography.  

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