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October 28, 2010

Storytelling Thrives at Smithsonian Affiliate

Mary B. Martin Storytelling Hall at the International Storytelling Center in Jonesborough, Tennessee

Has anyone proclaimed October “National Storytelling Month?”  I’m sure this would find great favor among the more than 10,000 people who attended this year’s 38th annual National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee.  Organized by Smithsonian Affiliate, the International Storytelling Center, the festival gives ample evidence that the spoken word has not yet succumbed to the abbreviated argot of tweets, instant messaging, acronyms, and emoticons.  In Jonesborough, the world’s oldest art form is flourishing. 

Begun in 1973 by Jimmy Neil Smith, a former journalism teacher and mayor of this picturesque, historic East Tennessee town, the festival has justifiably earned Jonesborough the title of “Storytelling Capital of the World.”  As Smith recalls, “thirty eight years ago, when 50 or so people gathered around a hay wagon in the center of my home town to tell and listen to stories, something magical happened.  The National Storytelling Festival was created, basically, to inspire ordinary people to share stories.” 

Niall de Búrca, of Ireland, performs during the 2009 National Storytelling Festival. Photo courtesy Fresh Air Photo.

Inspire it does.  The storytelling usually begins at 10:00 am and lasts well past midnight.  Veteran attendees meticulously scope out the schedule and find their seats long before starting time.  Audiences remain attentive and appreciative throughout, absorbed in each session, hanging on every word, eagerly awaiting the ever-unpredictable plot twist or punch line.  Stories range from traditional to personal and from serious to surreal.  In all their shapes and styles, the stories embrace the glorious diversity of the oral tradition, while underscoring what must be a universal human impulse to create narrative out of everyday life. 

Chuna McIntyre presents a Yup’ik Eskimo story at the 2009 Festival. Photo courtesy Fresh Air Photo.

Many Jonesborough storytellers have shared their skills on Smithsonian stages. Ray Hicks, Donald Davis, Jay O’Callahan, John McCutcheon, Bill Lepp, Syd Lieberman, and Kathryn Windham, to name a few have performed at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, the Discovery Theater, and at various SI museums and workshops.  Smithsonian staff have, in a similar manner, given their time and talents back to Jonesborough:  Rex Ellis, master storyteller and Associate Director for Curatorial Affairs at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, has been a mainstay in Jonesborough since 1990;  Stephanie Norby, Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies and Clare Cuddy, National Museum of the American Indian have also advised on educational strategies and programming at the International Storytelling Center. 

(L to R) Affiliations Director, Harold Closter, and Storytelling Center President, Jimmy Neil Smith

The work of all these accomplished folk demonstrates the truth behind poet Muriel Rukeyser’s observation that “the universe is made of stories, not of atoms.”  One trip to Jonesborough and you’ll have no doubts.  Just remember to make your reservations early!

October 1, 2010

affiliates in the news: week of september 27

Congratulations to these Affiliates making headlines this week!

Discovery Science Center (Santa Ana, CA)
Best of Orange County 2010 WinnersREAD MORE 

A life-size wax figure of George Washington appears in the “Discover the Real George Washington: New Views from Mount Vernon” exhibit at the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh, N.C. By The Associated Press

North Carolina Museum of History (Raleigh, NC)
There’s the George Washington made famous in the Gilbert Stuart portrait found in many elementary schools and, in engraved fashion, on the $1-dollar bill: a severe man, whose severity is accentuated by thin, taut lipsREAD MORE

St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum (St. Augustine, FL)
Richard Willich pledges $50,000 to maritime groupREAD MORE

Smithsonian Cup goes on display at Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art in Elmhurst, Illinois. The cup was designed by Gianmaria Buccellati and donated to the National museum of Natural History in 2000. The cup is only on view at the museum until October 10, 2010.

Durham Museum (Omaha, NE)
Be one of the first to see Dig It! The Secrets of Soil created by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural HistoryREAD MORE
Get the dirt on something we just can’t live withoutREAD MORE

The National Jazz Museum in Harlem (New York, NY)
Historic music find ‘redefines’ swing era jazz…READ MORE

International Storytelling Center (Jonesborough, TN)
The world’s premier storytellers will take the stage in Jonesborough the weekend of Oct. 1-3, 2010, as Tennessee’s oldest town plays host to the 38th annual National Storytelling Festival…READ MORE

“Dig It! The Secrets of Soil” opens at the Durham Museum on October 2.

 

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