"The storyteller is the soybean...the audience is the sun" | People & Places | Smithsonian
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"The storyteller is the soybean...the audience is the sun"

They need each other to make something good happen, and when they get together at festivals and workshops across the land, it usually does

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"The world outside is glutted with TV, computers and video games, yet inside a huge white tent, a soothing voice is telling tales to a thousand listeners, each as charmed as any child," says writer Bruce Watson. A likely story in the Information Age?

Maybe not. But each October, Jonesborough, Tennessee, enjoys an annual population explosion as thousands of people gather to attend the National Storytelling Festival, which will celebrate its 25th year this fall. Today, more than 225 organizations in the United States hold similar festivals each year.

At Jonesborough's festival, one can hear America talking. Stories come alive in the cadences of Cajun, the fast-lane lingo of California, the gentle ramble of the Midwest. Last fall, Kathryn Windham told stories of Jeffrey, the ghost that inhabits her house, in a pleasant Alabama drawl. Ray Hicks intoned tales in a slow Appalachian dialect about a mountain boy named Jack.

About 500 storytellers earn a living telling tales in schools, churches, libraries, parks, hospitals, corporate offices or wherever storytelling is needed. At a bucolic retreat on the coast of New Jersey, teller Michael Cotter hosted a workshop for more than 20 men and women of various ages who were suffering from AIDS. They gathered to share their stories, to reaffirm life in the face of death. Cotter, a farmer, ended the day of storytelling by passing out soybean seeds from his farm. "The storyteller is the soybean, but the audience is the sun," he said.

"That's what it takes, someone who tells you you're worth listening to.

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