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!