I have been a professional storyteller for 30 years. My first gig was an all-school assembly in Red Wing, Minnesota in 1982. I was living in Red Wing and commuting to the University of Minnesota to earn my master’s degree in library science. I had taken an elective class on storytelling from Dr. Harris McClaskey (I hope I’m remembering his name correctly – help me out U of MN alum). I offered my services to the school in Red Wing basically to see if “this storytelling thing worked.” It did. I was hooked.
For many years, I told stories for my job as a children’s librarian at the ‘berry. I spent my days off of work and vacation days to travel and tell stories to kids in schools and libraries all over the Midwest and eventually all over the country and Canada. I started including aspects of storytelling in my own books, such as Family Storytime and Something Funny Happened at the Library.
I enjoyed the company of other storytellers at various festivals. Over the course of the years, life on the road lost its appeal and I did fewer and fewer gigs. I hadn’t learned or written a new story for some time. Instead, I focused on sharing aspects of storytelling as a senior lecturer at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Children’s Literature classes. I’ve been content with that and doing little else with storytelling.
Until last week.
I was asked by my dean to put together a storytelling event on campus. We brought in Joe Hayes from New Mexico and Nothando Zulu from Minneapolis. These two showcase storytellers not only successfully entertained the campus and community, they re-sparked my identity as a storyteller. They reminded me of the magic that happens when a room full of people gather to tell and hear stories. I can’t wait to attend the Black Storytellers Alliance festival coming up in a few weeks - Nothando is one of the organizers and performers.
The following resources were instrumental in my development as a storyteller.
Some are unfortunately out-of-print.
Fortunately, some libraries still have copies and are willing to loan them to patrons of other libraries.
And fortunately, the Internet and small bookstore dealers have made it easier to locate out-of-print books. The first two books listed below made the biggest impact on me.
The Story Vine by Anne Pellowski (McMillan, 1984). While I was in grad school, I saw Anne do three 45 minute storytelling presentations in one day – each program was completely different from the others – and it opened a new world for me.
Handbook for Storytellers by Caroline Feller Bauer (ALA, 1977) and still available as Caroline Feller Bauer’s Handbook for Storytellers through the American Library Association’s store.
The Art of the Story-Teller by Marie Shedlock (Dover, 1951).
Juba This and Juba That by Virginia Tashjian (Little, Brown, 1969) (out of print).
Just Enough to Make a Story by Nancy Schimmel (Sister’s Choice, 1982) (out of print).
Storytelling: Process and Practice by Norma Livo and Sandra Reitz (Libraries Unlimited, 1986) (out of print).
Twenty Tellable Tales by Margaret Read MacDonald (Wilson, 1986).
The Way of the Storyteller by Ruth Sawyer (Viking, 1942).
In a future column, I’ll share my favorite sources for individual stories.