Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Storytelling

Beginning in the  early seventies, country comedian Jerry Clower made us all laugh with his tales from his hometown in rural Mississippi. I was honored to meet him in the eighties when he came to UNA to perform to a packed house.  While working as a fertilizer salesman, Mr. Clower became known for his funny stories with which he entertained potential buyers.  The right person heard him and offered him a record contract, and Mr. Clower stopped selling literal fertilizer for a living.

Jimmy Neil Smith, a journalism teacher in the tiny town of Jonesborough, Tennessee, was listening to his car radio one day and heard Mr. Clower tell about hunting in Mississippi (knock 'em out, John).  Mr. Smith loved storytelling, and wondered if the city of Jonesborough might start a storytelling festival.  In 1973, on a sparkling October day, the first National Storytelling Festival was held. That October weekend birthed the renaissance of storytelling, and more than forty years later, it is still growing.

Kathryn Tucker Windham was from Alabama.  I read her books about ghosts long before I heard her tell stories, then was privileged to hear her speak many times. She was a sweet, beautiful woman who made everyone feel special.  Her stories were simple but profound; each one could make you laugh and cry and think.  One of my favorite stories is one where Ms. Windham tells of craving a tomato sandwich in Paris and the way a friend found one for her.  She will always be the 'mother' of storytelling to me.  She was scheduled but unable to come to the first University of North Alabama Front Porch Storytelling Festival due to declining health. She passed away a few weeks after the festival, and all of Alabama and the storytelling world mourned.

I love and appreciate Mr. Clower, Mr. Smith, and Ms. Windham, and I'm so thankful for what they have done to make our lives better.  But none of them is my favorite storyteller. 

More tomorrow.
*Images from Wikipedia, National Storytelling Festival.