How Storytelling Enhances a Motor Coach Tour: Intertwinging History, Folklore,Anecdotes, and insight with the Facts

As the West Virginia Storytelling Guild enters into 2019—with all of its opportunities to network, grow professionally and individually as artists and givers of wisdom—it seems fitting to begin with a special blog article that shares something of the treasures found within the borders of our own state. Most will agree that Oglebay is a West Virginia crown jewel. Read on to see how one veteran storyteller has put his imprint on storytelling at Oglebay and then look at some ways that storytelling can be re-invented for educational purposes as found in West Virginia ARTWorks, a publication for artists from the Division of Culture and History.

How Storytelling Enhances a Motor Coach Tour:

Intertwining History, Folklore, Anecdotes, and Insight with the Facts

by Richard Knoblich

For thirty-three years Oglebay Resort, operated by the Wheeling Park Commission, has successfully staged a major holiday light festival spread over three hundred acres of the park, featuring over one million LED lights. Motorcoach companies offer day visits or overnight trips to experience the Winter Festival of Lights staged each evening from early November to early January. Not surprising to storytellers, the creators soon realized that just looking at the displays is not enough. Guests want to hear about the creative backdrop that developed this amazing light show.

The tours have three different starting points depending on what the motor coach company has planned for its passengers. For an enjoyable sightseeing visit to the museums and shops, you can start at the Visitors Center. Perhaps a laser light show with 40,000 flashing LED lights choreographed to music is the main attraction, with the jumping off point as the Good Zoo. Or you can plan an extended overnight stay to visit historic Wheeling, Oglebay Resort, or the casino; in this case, a dinner buffet with a musical show would have you beginning at the newly renovated Wilson Lodge.

These locations are where the Festival of Lights tour guides step into the picture, literally. Joining the motor coach driver and tour escort at each starting point, the Oglebay tour guide climbs aboard to greet the seated guests with a hearty welcome. Here begins the light tour, carefully word-crafted by the storyteller to match the light show with backstory unparalleled. Doubting that this magnificent light show can be enhanced? Read on.

To paraphrase the manual description (which is factually straight forward) of one major display: ‘the candy cane wreath debuted in 1985. The wreath is over 50 feet in diameter and up to 47 feet high, with 18,657 lights.’ Huh? How many numbers did this brief description supply? With nearly one hundred displays, guests will only follow a narrative with so many numbers. And this is where the storyteller heightens the interest.

As a storytelling guide, I still contribute interesting information, such as which display is the tallest, longest, oldest, or heaviest. That information does not require storytelling skills. But along with the basics, I also intertwine history, folklore, personal anecdotes, and insight with the facts.

For example: How did the Winter Festival of Lights begin? When the Good Zoo began (founded by the generosity of the local department store family to honor their son, Philip), there was a need for revenue to help sustain the zoo. As a storyteller I weave the personal narrative of the family into the initial Good Zoo Lights Up For You extravaganza. Blending this narrative with the creative leadership development of the Wheeling Park Commission gives a satisfying answer for the motor coach guests.

During the evening tour I infuse historical perspective into the pageantry of the lights, even going back to when the property had Native Americans roaming the Ohio Valley, before the first permanent settlers arrived in the 1770s. In fact, logs from the first two-story cabin can be seen in the construction of one of the Wilson Lodge fireplaces. Along with the development of Wheeling, VA (later West Virginia), I detail how Colonel Earl Oglebay’s purchase of 25 acres with an eight-room red brick farmhouse quickly evolved into the classic Oglebay Mansion Museum that is open today. He grew the property from twenty-five acres into a 650 acre experimental farm where his family resided from July till early November.

Interspersed with the historical account are the anecdotes that amuse the tourists and highlight life at Oglebay. For example, when motoring past the farmhouse manager’s former home, I point out how he raised four daughters there. Next to the house is where the horse stables were located. As I tell the guests, “I don’t know much about raising four little girls, but I’d bet my next paycheck that a lot of sugar cubes disappeared off the kitchen table into the mouths of Earl’s horses.”

But along with the historical aspects of Festival of Lights, all the guides inject their own personality and especially humor into the narratives. Displays like Christmas Kittens in a Box (losing entry that year was Christmas Litterbox), Tyrannosaurus Rex (the newspaper headline read ‘Tyrannosaurus Wrecks Ford Mustang’, Cheerleader Pyramid (before sticking the landing she disappears into the night), Frisbee Dog Jake (sometimes the wires get crossed and it looks like a frisbee throwing a dog back to the little girl), allow for ample opportunities to infuse humor.

Before the tour ends, the tourists usually ask how I became a tour guide and resident storyteller at Oglebay. I relate how after I retired from teaching, I became a movie extra (Unstoppable, Super 8, Batman: Dark Knight Rises), a writer (search, and brought home 8 ribbons from the WV Liars Contest. It doesn’t hurt that I live in Ogelbay’s backyard, so an easy drive to work is also a major plus. In addition to the light tours, I also offer a variety of programs including a walking tour of the historic hilltop area. For me, Oglebay is a happy place!

Oglebay is so much more than tours and opportunity for tourists to learn more about our state. In the following article, we can see how Oglebay was chosen as the site for using storytelling in the learning process for children. Now consider where you live, what is available in your “neck of the woods”—libraries, schools, civic centers, parks, tourist attractions, book stores and much more—and determine ways to offer proposals for partnering with your community as a storyteller.Your own backyard awaits you!

Blogboy apologies...

Hello one and all.

As we near the end of the year I’d like to take a moment to comment on a few things…. Thanksgiving is gone, leaving annual leftovers, or as I call it ‘Christmas.’ December just ramps to insanity, so now is my moment of clear vision to communicate before cynacism trumps (lower case… pun intended) my generous spirit

Let me say that January should replace December as the last month of the year. Janus: looking back and looking ahead. Certainly this is more appropraite to end a year than begin one? Besides, December has the ‘deca’ root, meaning ten… it belongs in October, October belongs at August, and September? July. September thru December, the seventh thru tenth months got moved long ago, when they ‘fixed’ the calendar, Daylight ‘savings time’ merely added to the confusion.

I mention all this for two reasons: one is to trigger a story for all you tellers whose brains are as disfunctional as mine, and the other to obfuscate the fact that I have been lax in blogging… thus the portmanteau: lax + blogging = ‘lagging.’ Oh, wait, that’s alreading a word. There is nothing new with my ‘lagging’ as life offers daily challenges, which explains why I am late in blogging (Combine these words? It doesn’t form ‘blovating’ but it should!)

I had the privilage to portray Otto Frank this past summer in PrimeStage Theater’s production of ‘The Diary of Anne Frank.’ Now, after the tragic shooting here in Pittsburgh, I have been asked to jointly create and present a seminar: ‘Using Theater to Teach the Holocaust’ to teachers. This has been a challenging project the results of which have recently stolen my calendar. (Not lierally, just daily.) Tomorrow is the first of four presentations.

So, the theme of this missive seems to be a combined ‘mea culpa’ and ‘the future looks bright.” ‘Forgive me,’ I have not been in better touch, but I hope this finds you all doing well.

With a smile and a wink,

Blogboy Mike

Diversity in Appalachia: Frostburg's Appalachian Festival By Katie Ross

Recently Kara Rogers-Thomas, the organizer of Frostburg State University’s Appalachian Festival, told me that the theme for the 2018 festival was Diversity in Appalachia.  I scratched my head in disbelief. I had never thought of this region of the country being particularly diverse. Then I thought, “Wait, I am part of that diversity. I grew up in Southern California which many people around here consider to be a foreign country. And now I live in West Virginia.  So maybe there really is something to the idea of diversity in Appalachia.“

Not long after that I talked to my 89-year-old friend John Johnson who spent his formative years in a coal mining community. He said to me one day, “Katie, my first job was working in the coal company store. Many of the people who came in to buy things did not speak English. Somehow, though, we learned a lot from each other.” Of course I had to ask him what nationalities he remembered meeting. He mentioned many Polish people, but he added that there were Italian, Irishmen, Austrians and so forth.

After that, I decided that I had to do some research on the topic. I turned to two sources: the Internet and the book by Ruth Ann Musick, Green Hills of Magic, West Virginia Folktales from Europe.   These sources opened my eyes and caused me to see Appalachia in a different light. I found out that during the time when the coal industry was really booming, people from all over the world came to the region seeking a better life.

According to one Internet article, A Whitewashing Reality: Diversity in Appalachia By AV's Intern Team/February 7, 2014, “As the demand for miners increased, coal operators began to look outside the region for more workers; they particularly targeted eastern and southern European immigrants. Between 1820 and 1920, more than 60,000 Italians, Hungarians, Austrians, Russians, Poles and other immigrant workers had settled in the Appalachian coalfields, constituting as much as 40 percent of the workforce. African Americans from further south were also drawn to the mines and surrounding timber camps, creating a melting pot of diversity in central Appalachia.”

Many of the people who immigrated to the region were unable to bring much in the way of material goods, but they could bring their stories, and bring them they did. Ruth Ann Musick, a professor from Fairmont State University, collected as many of the stories from the early 1900’s as she possibly could. She then published the book I mentioned earlier, The Green Hills of Magic, West Virginia Folktales from Europe.

I found an Italian story that I particularly liked in Musick’s collection. Its title is The King’s Son and the Poor Man’s Daughter. In keeping with the diversity in Appalachia theme I will tell this Italian story, and my husband Otto will play an Italian song on the guitar. Jo Ann Dadisman will share a story that relates the struggles of an immigrant family from Poland in a West Virginia coal camp

Immigrant population has continued to rise in recent times. Again quoting from the Internet article, “The past three decades, however, diversity has been increasing throughout the region, particularly in urban areas and university towns. In the 1990s, racial and ethnic minorities accounted for nearly half the region’s population growth, while the Latino population increased by nearly 240 percent. West Virginia alone welcomed new residents from 31 different countries during that time period.”  So to give tribute to the Latinos that are part of Appalachia, Mikalena Zuckett will be telling a Mexican tale called El Señor Coyote y la Borreguita or Mr. Coyote and Miss Lamb. Two more West Virginia storytellers, Adam Booth and Rich Knoblich will be sharing tales along this theme as well.

After doing this research on diversity in Appalachia, I look at the place where I live with a new sense of appreciation and awareness. And now I am looking forward to hearing the other storytellers share their stories at the Appalachian Festival with their take on this topic.


These five West Virginia storytellers will be telling stories in the Cook Chapel on Frostburg State University‘s campus in Frostburg, MD on Saturday, September 15 from 12:30 until 3:00:

Katie and Otto Ross (12:30)

Jo Ann Dadisman (1:00)

Adam Booth (1:30)

Rich Knoblich (2:00)

Mikalena Zuckett (2:30)

The Festival as well as the storytelling are offered free of charge. The Festival celebrates diversity in Appalachia with music, crafts, and of course storytelling. For more information, contact Katie Ross at or 304-738-2338 or go the Appalachian Festival website:

Mike Perry, blogboy ...

Hello one and all.

Mike Perry here, your newly designated blog-boy. Web-servant?  (Webmaster sounds so condescending,) Adam recently asked me to take charge of our blog and post any and all info and articles submitted by you, my well-storied friends. I only agreed IF he would not ever use the term ‘intuitive’ as he listed how ‘easy’ it is to manage the site.  And so, practicing on JoAnn’s creation first, I attempted to test both her patience and Adam’s veracity.

Here is what I learned:

It will become easier as you send me info and pictures to post. Practice makes permanent and the more I post the better I will become at being familiar with the numerous tools and options available. These include video and audio as well as photos and text. I prefer not to edit your work, though I will bring a discerning eye to the copy in an attempt to find grammar and punctuation in need of polish.

I’m guessing that we have a Facebook presence? If so, remind me to post there as well so we are out in ‘the real world’ (a cyber joke?) and available to others. As your personal blog-boy, web-servant, you may have to remind me from time to time to ‘show up for work’… since like you I’m probably doing something else besides reading one of my many email addresses.  This summer, that included storytelling/comedy gigs, the lead as Otto Frank in ’The Diary of Anne Frank’ and, more recently co-teaching ‘The Art of Story Presentation’ with Mary Jo Sonntag, at The University of Pittsburgh as a continuing education class through the OSHER program.

So, hi ho…. hi ho… it’s off to work we go!

When you would like post on the blog site send it me at :  MikePerry.Storyteller@

And as your humble West Virginia-storytelling- web-blog-servant-boy, I look forward to keeping us spreading the word about storytelling, whether in print or word of mouth.

With a smile and a wink,

Mike Perry

What would the world be without stories? No telling!        

Front Porch Entertainment ... Revisited

 Last Friday, July 27, we enjoyed an evening of “hand-clapping music and side-splitting stories” in Preston County at the Preston Community Arts Center, a space complete with stage, good lighting, and clean restrooms. With no porch in the area large enough to accommodate a crowd, we tried to re-create the relaxed, flexible schedule of the old- fashioned front porch evening, so common in the past in our Appalachian region.

The evening was a success, by everyone’s standards. Our membership chair offered information on the guild and even supplied membership forms. We added to that table several $1 items for sale: homemade cookies and fudge, and bottled water. Guild members wore name badges (all ten of them!), so the public could speak to members.

The music was provided by the New Diesel Trio, a band based in Marion County (next door to Preston) which features American folk/bluesy numbers and encourages singalongs. The stories came from two distinguished liars, James Froemel—a Vandalia Big Liar from Morgantown, and Kate McConnell—a Three Rivers Storytelling Festival Liar from Pittsburgh. Both are WVSG members. Fifteen-minute sets kept the performances fresh and fun, as we alternated music and story throughout the night. We ended with a door prize of boxed stories!

Froemel Headshot.JPG

James Froemel

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Kate McConnell

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The New Diesel Trio

We sold 90 tickets for the event, each at $10/seat for adults and $5 for kids; we also raised more than $100 from the guild table, despite the fact that the audience could buy specialty drinks in an eatery that joined the Center and shared bathrooms.

The response to the evening was overwhelmingly positive. Some folks came for the blend of music and story; some came primarily to hear the tellers. The journalist came back (we gave her two complimentary tickets) and is writing a new piece which will be published this week. Our tellers both said they enjoyed the evening. One said, “Lots of fun performing for such a full and welcoming audience” and the other wrote, “Your audience was wonderful—attentive and in enjoying the program.” I saw it as a win-win all the way around! The guild was recognized, we were able to promote storytelling through a formal concert, and we even raised some money for the guild!

Because this single event was successful, I thought some pointers might be helpful to others considering a similar event in a different area of the state.

  1. TO BEGIN, CHOOSE A VENUE THAT IS RECOGNIZABLE AS A PERFORMANCE SPACE. Although the Center required a rental fee, we had an anonymous sponsor pay for it. Area residents in a 4-county area are accustomed to attending shows in this space.

  1. DETERMINE THE PROGRAM AND THE PERFORMERS TO MATCH. In our case, we opted for a really good small band that agreed to a percentage of the gate and two stellar storytellers who would share the same type of story but have different styles. Kate’s dog story and Kennywood story proved a perfect counterpoint to James’ tales of his youth.

  1. DECIDE ON ADVERTISING. BE PERSISTENT AND PERSONAL. I designed a poster with the help of Vistaprint and ordered 4 large posters, suitable for big window display. We also created an 8x11 for posting on bulletin boards, in windows and at the post offices. We also got a free lance writer for the biggest local paper on board, and she gave us good coverage in that paper. I wrote up a promo for 3 other county papers, including Garrett County (MD), all because I learned that folks from Deep Creek sometimes came down for musical events. I wrote personal notes to all papers, asking for publicity.

  1. CHOOSE KEY PEOPLE TO HELP SPREAD THE WORD. Because I was working in my own area, I selected people who would enjoy coming to a program such as this and asked them to sell tickets for me. Each received a packet of 10 tickets. This worked well, because some folks wanted their tickets in hand when they arrived. The seats were comfortable folding chairs, so when the doors opened 15 minutes before the start, folks could choose their seats. Only a few seats were reserved (our oldest guild member who attended is 90 and needed to be close to the front!). We sold 55 tickets before that evening, and we had another 16 reserved at the door, guaranteeing us a fair gate to be divided among the performers. (I could then take a sigh of relief!). We sold another 24 tickets at the door.

  1. THIS PROGRAM GAVE US AN INVITATION TO HOLD ANOTHER CONCERT FREE OF CHARGE AT A SECOND LOCATION IN THE COUNTY. I challenged the audience to buy everything from the guild table if they wanted to see another show as a vote of confidence. They did so. The next program already has a location, so we have already fulfilled requirement #1 (see above), as we plan for a fall event near Halloween.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to send me a note. I am happy to share what I learned in more detail.  Email is

Looking Back on the Fifth Season of Speak Story Series

In December the Speak Story Series capped off its fifth season, which saw a number of changes to its operation. A community committee formed to guide the Series into future seasons and also worked to join the series into its new home at Shepherd University. With built-in seats, sloped floor, and raised stage, Reynolds Hall has proven to be a reliable new home (although we are still good friends with the Shepherdstown Community Club, our original home across the street). It was in Reynolds that we welcomed most of our tellers this season, including Antonio Rocha, Csenge Zalka, Jane Dorfman, Bill Harley, Janice Del Negro, Marc Harshman, and myself. We moved down the street for two shows, featuring Charlotte Blake Alston and the hoop dancing of Kevin Locke. With this lineup, Shepherdstown heard stories in four languages, folk tales from around the world, a presentation of some of the Arabian Nights, poetry from the State poet laureate, original and traditional music, and more. With our October show, we used the internet to bring Janice to our "big screen" from across the country. This was the second time we have used an internet video service to bring a storyteller to West Virginia, and her folktales and spooky stories were enhanced by the "drive-in" quality of the night. Speak is really on a roll and we are looking forward to kicking off our sixth season in March 2018.

A Fresh Twist on an Old Tale: The Greenbrier Ghost Revisited

by Jo Ann Dadisman

As storytellers, we are always looking for the next tale that chooses us. You read that right. Some folks might say we choose the stories we wish to share, but on occasion, we read a story that refuses to let us go. It lingers around the edges of our consciousness, even when we have moved on. For me, one such story is the West Virginia Shue Murder, or as it is more commonly known, the Greenbrier Ghost. From the first time I read it in Ruth Ann Musick’s volume of student-collected stories, Coffin Hollow (1977), I was hooked.

I have found the story retold in James Gay Jones’ Appalachian Ghost Stories (1975), Deitz’s The Greenbrier Ghost and Other Strange Stories (1997), Gavenda and Shoemaker’s A Guide to Haunted West Virginia (2001) and in the first edition of The West Virginia Encyclopedia (2006). Wikipedia’s more recent version provides photographs. Other sources are undoubtedly out there.

Many of the details in the various accounts vary slightly, but the storyline remains consistent: a young woman marries against her mother’s wishes and moves away with her new husband; within 2 months she is found dead and her body is returned to the family for burial; the grieving mother believes her son-in-law killed his new wife; she convinces several others to initiate an investigation; the husband is arrested and convicted of murdering his wife. He later dies in prison.

What makes this tale so compelling is the reason the mother gives for knowing the truth about Zona’s untimely death: her daughter has visited and spoken with her after she has been buried!! According to Deitz, this court testimony is the only example in American history of a ghost’s testimony convicting a defendant of murder!

So I fleshed out the story from the details I had, telling the story from the point of view of Mary Heaster, who “knew something was wrong with that man. She didn’t know what it was—for he was handsome enough with his dark curly hair and sparkling eyes. His quick smile smile brought one in return to women, young and old alike. And yet, Mary knew there was something wrong with his heart. She begged her daughter Zona not to marry….” The story carried itself and I always ended it with Edward Shue’s death in Moundsville eight years later. I always wondered if he died under mysterious circumstances or from another cause but never knew what his death certificate stated.

Imagine my thrill to learn that my favorite Appalachian novelist and author of the acclaimed ballad series (including The Ballad of Tom Dooley and The Ballad of Frankie Silver, both based on historical figures) has released The Unquiet Grave, a historical novel based on the  Shue story from our own Greenbrier County. 

Sharyn McCrumb is legendary in the crafting of tales set in our mountains, with characters that spring off the written page. This new novel does not disappoint, as she artfully weaves together two distinct stories. The first is set in 1896-97 in Greenbrier County and is told in first person from the perspective of Mary Heaster, the bride’s mother. The second occurs in 1930 in Lakin, West Virginia, and is a third-person account of Edward Shue’s defense lawyer, now a man who had been remanded to an insane asylum for attempting suicide. As second chair in the proceedings, James Gardner’s first case was the infamous Greenbrier Ghost case, and in the novel, his memories are relayed to a young psychiatrist whose job it is to determine if Gardner is well enough to be released. McCrumb flawlessly weaves the two stories together with facts borne of her research and her sharp sense of the Appalachian lifestyle, speech, and social mores of that time period.

For me, it was her research that I found to be most compelling. When we begin to flesh out the bones of a story, we spend time with the people, the places, and the events. Sometimes we travel to where the story took place, visit the graveyard, or seek out information pertinent to the time period. McCrumb’s story is compelling because she provides new information about the story’s characters based on historical records, and she also offers an alternative to the “ghost” character. It is her chapter endnotes and author’s notes that I found incredibly helpful. In her own words, McCrumb writes, “When I first requested information on the Greenbrier Ghost, I was referred to a book of regional folktales, in which Zona’s story took up a page and a half. Two years later, with the help of a number of generous and scholarly people, I had amassed a pile of documents six inches thick—census records, birth and death certificates, property records, maps, and photographs—a weath of evidence to bring the folktale back into the real world.”

When we are busy with our storywork lives, we have choices to make. We can tell original stories from our own imaginations or urban legends that are common and lovely to tell. Unique among the many stories are those that are historical, and we owe them our very best. Kudos to McCrumb for giving our state tellers so much new information on the Greenbrier Ghost. I know Zona Heaster Shue is pleased. And for the alternative explanation for the ghost—I’ll let you find out for yourselves. Enjoy a good read!


Bringing Historical Figures To Life

by Ilene Evans

First person historical narrative is a way of telling stories from a person’s life as they might tell them themselves. It is a special style of storytelling. This style of storytelling combines the arts of storytelling, acting, improvisation, characterization, imagination, creative writing, biography, historical research, directing, and then stepping into the role of the historical figure.  It is a wonderful form of re-“membering” our his-story (and her-story) which can enrich both you and your repertoire. By re-“membering” I mean that we can literally put something back together that has been torn asunder. Many families have experienced a kind of loss that remembering through storytelling can help heal. Reconnecting through storytelling can mend our memory and sense of identity. Telling stories through character is a teaching tradition found in many cultures. This is particularly true of African and African American culture, its folk life and traditions. 

Historical stories, especially first person historical narrative, engages the teller in a spiritual sensitivity and a technical skill set. Combining all these skills is a challenge to any storyteller. A storytelling artist must integrate the skills of research, writing, performing and educating, respect, humility, and gratitude. Listening to their original words, working with their writings in diary, articles, poetry photographs, songs and compositions connects you to their artistic spirit and humanity. In reaching back to render historical figures, it is helpful to look for an affinity with that figure. Storytelling goes far beyond fact and dates and numbers. The goal is to express the heart and soul of the character. 

Creating an historically plausible framework is essential to the effectiveness of this style of telling. Having a deep understanding of that ancestor’s life and times adds a sense of authenticity to the presentations. Understanding the era in which the person lived helps the teller to keep the person’s voice alive and bring the conflicts and pressures of the past into clear focus in the present.

This style of storytelling does not attempt to impersonate.  Nor should this style of telling be thought of as a reenactment. I prefer to use the word portrayal. The portrayal is based on the teller’s immersion into the research of their life, getting as close to the person as possible. One does not need to look like the person so much as to bring their stories, ideas, and essence to the listeners.  As much as possible we use the persons own words to shape the stories we share.

First person historical narratives help us understand the people who have shaped our lives and influenced out opinions and opportunities, our choices and options. today. Their victories and their challenges reveal the consequences of choices made. When we look at the turning points, the crossroads of their lives, it gives us a chance to rethink what they were thinking when they did the things they did. As my Grandmother Odessa used to say, we must walk a mile in someone else’s footsteps to understand them.  When we “walk a mile in their moccasins” we learn empathy at a cellular level.  We can see the world from their vantage point. 

The direct impact of first person historical narration is very effective in connecting the past to the present and strengthening the moral fiber of our culture. I found that many of the lessons that teachers were struggling to get across out of a text book leapt to instant clarity and full comprehension with first person historical narrative, in a way that just telling them about the story did not. It is a short term -  high impact teaching tool.

A storyteller using the first person brings the audience into direct contact with those critical moments of decision. It allows the audience to interact directly with their history. It can be used to open dialogue, civil discourse, conversation and discussion to build unity in the community. For example, instead of telling someone about the parade, you become a person at the parade, watching it and feeling it with an immediacy of delight, joy, dread, fear, terror, whimsy, transcendence, victory….

Where can someone find this kind of storytelling? Humanities councils around the country have benefited from promoting this kind of storytelling.  An historical portrayal may be accompanied by contextual seminars and symposiums to help bring dry boring history lessons to life. Museums are using it to enliven the experience of their visitors to give context to artifacts and items no longer commonly used. National Parks service employees are finding that telling stories in first person helps increase the personal connection to the value of the natural environment. Classroom teachers are using this form of storytelling along with creative dramatics to help students understand conflicts and time periods far removed from our daily life.  Welcome to my world! 

Happy Telling, Ilene

Reflections from the Kansas City Storytelling Festival

by Adam Booth

The Kansas City Storytelling Festival is an event I had heard about from several friends on the storytelling circuit. It was always described with superlatives: "sweet" "just the right size" "a teller's dream job." Now that I have told there, I can say that my friends didn't lie!

The November festival places tellers into local public and private venues during the day, such as schools and public service programs, and offers workshops and concerts in the evenings. I had the opportunity to share tales at elementary and middle schools around the metropolitan area, give a workshop at the Midwest Genealogy Center on cultural influence on personal tales, and join fellow featured tellers Sheila Arnold Jones, Scott Whitehair, and Geraldine Buckley in evening shows. This was my first time working with Scott, who quickly won over the crowd with his sensitive, truthful stories of human conditions. 

The regional storytellers are the true gems at this festival. I met and worked with a few dozen volunteer tellers and librarians who had great stories to share and a real love for storytelling. This is a group of story lovers who I would love to get to know more. Missouri is fertile with tellers and telling organizations! Check out for a glimpse of the strength of a local Guild. And did I mention the BBQ we had between shows? KC is hard to beat!

Another highlight of the festival was the evening of ghost stories, which really was an evening of spooky tales. And we were spooked! Images of Sheila's raven are still with me. 

Kudos to founding director Joyce Slater and all of the great librarians, tellers, and support team that help to make this "sweet" festival such a great event.

Story Swap #2 !

by Jo Ann Dadisman

WVSG’s Story Swap #2: Feasting Time

On November 4 Story Swapping participants drove into rural West Virginia on a sunny morning, shared introductions, slurped freshly ground and roasted coffee that Dave and Candy brought, and nibbled June’s sweet rolls. Are you hungry yet?

The day stretched ahead of us, filled with promise. We found time to uncover new possibilities for personal stories, talk about the hurdles we face in choosing stories and telling them to different audiences, and share bits of advice or pose questions for the novice and experienced tellers.

After a lunch of Barbara’s delicious spinach salad, Diane’s shrimp dip with crackers, and homemade vegetable soup and cornbread, our stomachs were full, but the feasting had just begun! We then sunk our teeth into sharing stories: tales about floating school houses, boyhood and surprises on the Chicago streets, girl power, the life of an Italian immigrant, growing up in the 1950s era of polio, a coal camp widow, boyhood and families on the city streets, and much more. Some came to listen while others came to simply tell a story for the pure experience of sharing. Some came for help with voice, framing, or feedback while some came for suggestions on the best delivery method for a special story. We even found time for apple crisp and pumpkin pie, thanks to Jane and the Brauers. Was the day over? Reluctant to leave, we began another round of telling. These stories were a bit different: bubbles as a counterpoint to demonstrations on overseas streets, a brother coaxing an egg from a tired chicken, life on the Erie Canal, Ricky the wayward yet inventive raccoon, gold nuggets and dilapidated houses. The stories continued. Only a football weekend and the hectic traffic patterns it creates and additional obligations kept us from gathering around the campfire for yet another round of stories!

Our day was done. The need for food had been met—both physically and emotionally. The greatest benefit of story swapping is the comraderie that comes from taking time to laugh, to listen, to talk. The stories settled down over us, our own and the ones we heard, much like a favorite meal from our childhood. We were filled with contentment, but ready for the next time. And that’s real feasting! 


The Life of a Bubble

by David Brauer

This morning in Barcelona was an historic occasion. My wife and I started walking toward the city center on Via Laietana, away from the Mediterranean and encountered one end of a demonstration for Catalonian independence starting just beyond Placa Antoni Maura. The demonstration, we would find out later, involved over 500,000 people. It seemed as if everyone was covered in a red and yellow striped flag with the blue triangle containing a single star. Although it was very exuberant, it was also very peaceful.

We decided to walk away from the demonstration and made our way to the Arc de Triomf. There we settled on a bench to watch other tourists strolling on the pathway as the sun played tag with us through the frawns of the date palms that lined the promenade. Along the edges of the walkway were vendors that had laid out tie-dyed sheets with their goods for sale smartly placed on them. Some were selling tennis shoes, while others sold sunglasses, refrigerator magnets adorned with sites of Barcelona, and other items that might appeal to the tourist trade. Buskers played instruments in various areas hoping to attract coins from passing tourists. Yet another man had many children gathered around him. He was making bubbles using two long sticks with strings attached to them that he dipped into a liquid. When he brought them out the wind would create bubbles that youngsters delighted in popping. Some of these bubbles were carried by a kind and gentle breeze away from the hands of the children and worked their way among the others on the promenade.

As I looked up from where I was sitting I could see one headed towards us and whether it was my imagination or just too much sun, I do not know, but I thought I heard a sound emanate from it. It sounded like the bubble said.  “Hola, where did I come from? I remember being in a warm blue womb of glycerin and water when suddenly I was attached to a loop with hundreds of others and flung into space. Initially there were hundreds of us, all different shapes and sizes and colors. Some of them disappeared rapidly while others of us continued our march to the Arc de Triomf. We were encouraged on by a gentle breeze coming up from the Mediterranean. It was as if we were racing through the currents of life. Some of them were oblivious to the destination while others appear to have a purpose for their existence.”

“I can hear the sound of the green parrots as they argue amongst themselves in the date laden palm trees on this promenade. I see people pointing and staring at us. While they all smile as they gaze upon us some of the smaller people are poking at us. The breeze of my ambition carries me further ahead and as I look around I see fewer and fewer of my compatriots.”

“Suddenly I’m all alone. Where has the time gone? All of those that I was created with are gone also. Our existence seems so short, and yet I can look back and see all the distance that I covered. And then just as suddenly I am no more.”

Kentucky Storytelling Association Conference – a treasure in the neighborhood

by Mikalena Zuckett

It’s such a blessing to have such a wonderful storytelling conference just a few hours drive from many of our West Virginia members. This was my second time attending the Kentucky Storytelling Association’s Conference and again, KSA exceeded my expectations with an awesome conference experience.

For the pre-conference I was thrilled to be able to attend a full day workshop with Noa Baum. I had first encountered Noa Baum at workshops sponsored by The Healing Story Alliance’s pre-conference before the National Storytelling Network’s Conference several years ago. They also sponsored several workshops with Noa Baum during the conference that year and I attended them all.  Now to have a full day workshop, rather than for just for an hour or two, seemed like a well-timed blessing.

Noa’s stories are geared to peace and healing. She was raised in Israel and her life had bought her back and forth between Israel and America. Part of her journey includes using storytelling as a way to bring Palestinians and Israelis closer to peace. Her smile and her joy are just as infectious and healing as her stories.  

This workshop was Stories Old and Newa Path to Healing and Resilience. In it, Noa presented us with two short old teaching tales, then she walked us through how to relate one of these tales to events in our own lives, drawing out of each teller deep and powerful stories. Though out the day we learned different ways of weaving these old and new stories together, further deepening the story with each telling.  It was a powerful workshop. I strongly encourage you to attend any workshop or performance by this storyteller. For more about Noa Baum check out her web page

This year’s featured teller for the KSA conference was Megan Hick from Media, PA. Megan also provided a variety of workshops including one that I attended called Crack Me Up! How to tell Fractured Fairytales. During this workshop, as a sample of how to tell a Fractured Fairy Tale Megan told Groundhog Godmother. I was delighted to find that she has a sample of this on her web site because this was one of the stories which has stuck with me since the conference.     Check out this clip and more of Megan’s work at her website.

There was also an interesting panel discussion Creating Successful Storytelling Events in which Louisville Moth program organizer, Tara Anderson, House Concert organizer, Megan Hicks and Storytelling Coaching Retreats & Intensive Storytelling Workshops organizer, Cynthia Changaris discussed how they created and maintain their events. With so much in flux for storytelling in our region, I was interested in hearing more about options. Megan, for example, has created a successful house concert series in her home. By being able to provide a regular audience of about 30, she has been able to attract national level story tellers as they pass through her area. Part of the program also includes a chance for her to tell for at least 30 minutes per event, which keeps her own skills sharp. This event is by donation. 

Cynthia Changaris’ Coaching retreats, which she had done with Mary Hamilton, where highly spoken of. Several that attended this session had been to one or more of these coaching weekends and had lots of great things to say about them. 

The Louisville Moth program offers a very different style of storytelling, one which particularly attracts young adults. Their program opened in 2010 and runs monthly story slams. They are affiliated with, the National program out of New York City and, yes, it’s the one that you’ve probably heard on National Public Radio.

Each monthly story slam has a theme. Themes are published six months in advance. Story slam contestant are judged by how well they keep within the five-minute limit. They are given a one-minute buffer. After six minutes, points are deducted. They are judged by how well they adhere to the theme of that evening. The story must have a clear beginning, middle and end. The story must show a shift in perspective or some kind of change. Judges look for, “Is this a true story?” These stories are supposed to be first person narrative, though they do allow for “truth as the storyteller sees it.” 

The tellers for each monthly event are chosen randomly from the audience. Just because you attend, doesn’t mean you’ll get to tell. For more information about The Louisville Moth check out this article

One of the greatest features of the Kentucky Storytellers conference are the numerous Story Swap opportunities scheduled throughout the conference. These always provide delightful surprises!

All conference attendees are given a slip of paper to write their name on and encouraged to place it into one of the three Story Swap hats: “Never Told,” “Tells Some,” “Tells a Lot.” During each story swap sessions, a name is drawn from one of the three hats and the teller is given 5 minutes on stage. 

If you aren’t able to finish your story in 5 minutes, audience members are encouraged to check with that teller later to get the rest of the story. A time keeper holds up a warning card to alert the teller on stage when they have only a minute left, then 30 seconds, then “Stop!” This is good practice as many story competitions limit tellers to certain time limits and keeping within that limit is essential.

For me, though, one of the greatest delights of the conference was to hear one of Kentucky’s Torchbearers program winners. The Torchbearers program is a student storytelling competition. Winners are selected to represent Kentucky at the National Youth Storytelling Showcase and then serve as storytelling ambassadors for the following year.

Although seven had been selected, only one student was able to attend this year’s conference. Her name was Sky Byrd and oh what a delight she was! The tale she told you may know as Jack and the King’s Daughter. Although I have heard this tale told many times, this child found a fresh way of telling this old tale. She had the audience participating and spun the magic of storytelling over a room full of storytellers. Now, I need to note that Sky is a second grader! If this is how well she tells in the second grade, well, we’ve got a master in the making! Her performance made me all the more determined to establish some kind of youth storytelling program here in West Virginia. I just kept seeing one of my first graders who I know would have loved the opportunity that Sky Byrd made such great use of.

In addition, many of our WV Storytelling Guild member have been presenters and emcees at KSA’s conference. You may be surprised by how many West Virginians you’ll encounter at KSA’s conference. As I said in the beginning, KSA is a treasure of a neighbor. If you haven’t paid them a visit, then I hope you’ll consider doing so next year. You’ll be glad you did!

Br'er Rabbit's Legacy by Ilene Evans

Let me introduce you to an old friend of mine, Brer Rabbit. Brer Rabbit is a little piece of leather, but he’s well put together, winning with his wit against the mighty and the cruel.  In these folktales, there are creatures who are larger and stronger who could easily overwhelm and prey on the smaller and weaker ones. Without claw and tooth, hoof and fang a defenseless animal like a rabbit is the favorite meal for wolf, fox, cougar, stoats, weasels, bobcat, coyotes, snakes, crows, red squirrels, hawks, falcons, owls, eagles, raccoons, and badgers. With so many enemies, who can Brer Rabbit rely on to help him in the time of need? Who are his friends? Alliances are essential to survive, but which alliances? 

I learned about the wisdom of Brer Rabbit from my Alabama born mother, Ms. Ida Belle, who adored the trickster and placed him between Major Creek, Slaughter Branch, and Pine Log Creek in rural Alabama. “People are not so different from the wild animals of the forest and fields, swamps and rivers, from mountain top to the hollers. People can be just as power hungry and cruel as the animals. Animals could all live together and help each other, but just like folks, we get to a certain point and then get selfish again.” She was sure to add, “That’s what Christ was aiming for – unity and helping each other.” 

I live in the backwoods of West Virginia at the headwaters of the Potomac River. On a daily basis, I see the hawks, possums, raccoons, beavers, mice, wood rats, and deer who brush up against the human invaders and dare them to stay. I have lived long enough to learn that the laws of the wilderness apply to humankind. Many of us grew up on tales about Brer Rabbit and the other animals, both friend and foe; sometimes switching sides: changing times call for a change in allies. 

The wilderness is a useful metaphor for people facing struggle. It is an apt setting those of us who feel like we live in a place that is still wild and untamed, not quite civilized, where mercy is rare and wickedness and self-interest often prevail. Folktales about Brer Rabbit are often set in the wilderness, a stage upon which important warnings and teachings for young and old can unfold. 

The folktales of Brer Wolf, Brer Lion, Brer Rabbit and Sis Possum helped me identify the people in my life who behaved like the animals of the rough country. There were lessons that I could learn to help me move through the unknown, the overwhelming, the frightening, the mean, and cruel things that I saw around me -  and finish it off with a laugh. You didn’t have to be big and tough to win! Someone who was underestimated could prevail and thrive. I didn’t grow up with the quaint servile Uncle Remus in Joel Chandler Harris versions of Brer Rabbit. I had the hushed quiet, “don’t let anybody hear me telling you this” kind of stories. ““Brer Rabbit was smart; Brer Rabbit was clever! You know what Brer Rabbit would do?” My imagination understood the message. The world was not safe for a little girl but there was something I could do about it. 

These are dangerous times for many of us: women, children, people of color, single, coupled, straight, gay, and otherwise. My traditions use folktales as a way of making sacred spaces and holy ground -  to inspire and remember our courage, our strength and what we have to be proud of. They are about any time the power hungry go running wild; when the strong abuse the weak; when we forget the strength of our unity and our collective creativity.

Neighborhoods have been violated before, children targeted before, houses bombed, people tortured, access prevented.  This is not new. Some people are itching for a fight while others want to hide. I take lessons from age old folktales and proverbs, from other times past, when hate was not disguised and our ability to fight back was even more limited than it is now.  For people of color and immigrants, prejudice, suspicion, discrimination and fear have been woven into the very legal fabric of American social culture. This includes the history of Black Codes, Jim Crow laws, the Dred Scott decision, the Chinese Exclusion Act (I could go on and on). Folktales serve a purpose to help us shake out the issues in societal conflicts. They help us picture the forces at work that damage our humanity and dull our compassion. They help us build new language about our perceptions, predicaments, dangers, and prescriptions. Brer Tales show us how to resist the kind of hate and lies that fuel prejudice, suggesting when to fight and when to run, and give council on how to keep our souls intact.

Brer Rabbit has many ancestors and not all of them are tricksters, not just about racial injustice or slavery times. Brer Rabbits’ forebears appear all over the world.  In India, the moon is known as hare. In South American folktales, there is Uncle Rabbit. In East Africa, Sungura. In England, Peter Rabbit. In Asia, Central America among the Aztecs there is the Moon Rabbit. The Cherokee and Algonquin have their Rabbit tales. In Louisiana there is Compere Lapin (Godfather Rabbit) among the Creole. In all these cultures, Rabbit doesn’t always get it right; sometimes he is selfish and just a little too cocky for his own good. We were to mind his errors as well as his wisdom. Brer Rabbit is an old friend to the poor, the weak, the young and old, who have always had to use their wits to thrive in a hostile world. 

Brer rabbit has a lot of kinfolks. Here are just a few: 

Cherokee: Tsistu (Rabbit) 

South American Folktales:

This book was written by Tony Johnston and illustrated by Tomie dePaola. The Tale of the Rabbit and Coyote is from the town of Juchitan, in Oaxaca, Mexico. 

From India:  
The Rabbits and the Elephants 

The Foolish Lion and the Rabbit 

Japanese/ Chinese  - The Rabbit in the Moon

No Peeking! A Christmas Tale from Judi Tarowsky

The first Christmas I can remember was when I was a little over 2 years old, and we were living in a two-story house on Fairmont Street in New Castle, PA. I was a restless sleeper, so I was still in my crib. My mother was afraid I’d toss myself onto the floor if I were in a “big girl” bed.

Although I’m sure I had heard all the excitement about Christmas, it hadn’t yet registered with me about Christmas morning and a visit from Santa Claus. My memory is of my older brother coming into my room when it was still dark outside, and waking me up.

“Let’s see what Santa brought us!” he said, as I climbed out of my crib and followed him into the hallway. “Shhhhh!”

Our house was two-story, with a landing halfway up the stairs. We stopped there on the landing, to look out over the living room. All was dark, except for the streetlight shining in the front window. And there, below us under the Christmas tree, something was reflecting the streetlight. Something shining.

Handlebars! Handlebars on a two-wheel bike for my brother and a tricycle for me!

We scampered down the stairs as quietly as we could to inspect the marvels that Santa had left. A bicycle!

A tricycle! Oh, the wonder! So, this is what Santa Claus did while we were sleeping! There were wrapped packages under the tree, too, but our attention was focused on the bikes. My brother wouldn’t be able to ride his bike outside until spring, but I could wheel my tricycle around the first floor of the house.

 My brother’s curiosity was satisfied, and my newly-awakened curiosity realized it was satisfied, too. We tip-toed back up the stairs – our parents were still asleep – and my brother made sure I safely climbed back into my crib.

It’s a memory. It’s a story I’ve told to our son, so now it’s his story, too. May this Christmas, and all those hereafter, bring wonderful memories to your family.             

Share yours. Make stories.       

Judi Young Tarowsky holds a BSJ from WVU and a Graduate Certificate in Storytelling from the University of North Texas. She formerly worked as a newspaper reporter in Wheeling and Steubenville, OH. Among other venues, she has performed at Three Rivers Storytelling Festival, the WV State Folk Festival, and many other venues. She was one of the founders of the Grand Vue Storytelling Festival and the Pricketts Fort Storytelling Festival.

Contact Judi at: 
Judi Tarowsky