Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Mountain State Storytelling Institute

Two days of storytelling and storytelling friends. What a great recipe for a good time. Here are a few photos to share the Institute with you.

Keynote speaker Connie Regan-Blake inspired us with stories about Appalachian storyteller Ray Hicks, whose legacy lives on through those who knew him well. Connie had us laughing and crying as she talked about visiting the Hicks' remote m0untain home, about Ray's "all-day talker" personality and the easy flow of stories into his conversations, his healing abilities, and the impact this man had on her storytelling career.

Connie began telling stories for a living in 1971, when she and her first cousin Barbara Freeman took off on a yellow pickup truck with a camper to be storytellers. They didn't know where they were going or where they would find work, but their adventure lasted for years, and today Connie Regan-Blake is one of our most respected storytellers, and has traveled to many places in this world--although nowadays she flies!

Storytellers Jason Burns and Karen Vuranch get a hug in during the activities. Karen came with Colleen Anderson of MotherWit Design and Julie Adams, a fine singer and member of West Virginia Public Radio's Mountain Stage band to perform their storytelling and music show called Potluck. It was a fine performance by all three with music both comic and nostalgic and storytelling by Karen Vuranch that ranks as one of the best performances I have seen from any storyteller anywhere. It was taste treat for the senses.

Jo Ann Dadisman has a friend looking over her shoulder. The friend is the Braxton County Monster, one of West Virginia's most unusual legends or occurrences, depending on how you view the incident.

Folklorist Noel Tenney talks with Michael Kline, a noted oral historian and musician whose work has won many awards. I attended sessions by both Tenney and Kline and his wife Carrie Nobel Kline. Collecting family and community stories was the focus of both presentations, and the work of these people has saved much local legend and history from being lost as older generations pass on.

Besides her wide array of storytelling productions, Connie Regan-Blake sells beads for Bead for Life, which you can see in the photo above. Of course I bought a string of beautiful turquoise beads--both because they were beautiful and because this good cause provides medical and other assistance for the Ugandan women who make the jewelry from recycled paper. If you click in the link above, you will see a necklace like the one I bought in the front center of the website's photo.

I presented a new workshop on blogging Saturday afternoon. It was a small but dedicated group that attended. I had CD's of a powerpoint presentation for each attendee along with a handout of the slides because I never trust computers at conferences to really work. We managed to get enough functioning so that each person had a laptop to use.

It seemed a bit of an oxymoron to have someone called granny presenting on blogging! But at the end of the two-hour session, those who attended either had already started a blog and were posting, or knew all about the main blog sites and were ready to get started when they went home. Jason attended although he already has an excellent blog and his insights were an excellent addition to the discussion. I covered topics like deciding what your blog is to, who you want to target, what to do and not do on your blog, blog etiquette, set-up options and more. I think it was a useful session, and I would like to do it again sometime. I am certainly not a techie, but perhaps the viewpoint of someone like me is valuable to those who feel intimidated by writing online.

At the end of the Friday night concert, the other tellers and I were onstage for a final song and bow. Tellers were Rich Knoblich, me, Kevin Cordi, Ilene Evans and Connie Regan-Blake. What did I tell? Well, I started out by linking my presentation to Connie Regan-Blake's story about her mother going to pick out a coffin (true story!). Her story was one that made you laugh and cry at the same time. It reminded me of the time I was at the auction and they had a purple coffin as one of the lots for sale. (You can read about that on my blog by clicking here). Which has forever stayed in my mind--I mean, was it a used coffin? or a scratch-and-dent model (it did have a dent).

Anyway--so I told about that coffin, then segued to talking a little about the area where the Institute was being held, only a few miles from some of our states worst mine disasters at Mannington and Monongah. That led to the ballad by Jean Ritchie called West Virginia Mine Disaster. From there I talked a little about my husband's family and their connection to coal, and from there to my story called Idy Mae's Full Moon. An outhouse story, actually, and pretty funny.

The mine disaster song is not a happy one, as you can imagine, so it was important to me to bring the audience back to a happy place at the end of my set. By combining the song with family history and a funny family story, I was able to provide a range of emotional experiences and a brief multi-faceted perspective of the life in coal-mining communities. Not all good, not all bad, but full of the complexities of life for all of us.

The event ended with a presentation by the student storytelling troupe at Fairmont called The Appalachian Raconteurs. I am so glad to know this group was formed because we need more young people in storytelling. Knowing that the torch will be passed to capable hands makes me very happy and secure in knowing that Appalachian storytelling will continue to be part of our heritage for at least a few more generations.

I am looking forward to next year's Institute. The professional workshops, rich storytelling, the opportunity to interact with college students who are interested in storytelling, networking with friends and being at beautiful Fairmont State University makes a perfect recipe for learning and growing.


Rowan said...

It sounds like an interesting and enjoyable weekend, I'm not sure how much of a story telling tradition still exists in UK, I've seen an Irish story teller on a TV programme about Celtic myths and he was brilliant and I think there probably are still quite a few storytellers/ bards among the Celtic nations. It certainly isn't a mainstream thing though which is a pity as the old tradtions of passing down family history and legends orally did a lot to bind communities together I think. Maybe I haven't found any storytellers because I haven't looked properly, I shall have to see what I can find.

Anonymous said...

Glad you could stay with us, sorry I missed you!

We are just getting into allergy season up here. Hope you felt okay during your conference and presentation.

I have heard that some allergens can cause tiredness, nausea, and possible dizziness the next day.

A different compound found in these parts this time of year can make your car smell like wild onions cross bred with a garlic patch.

I bet that was a heck of a ride home!!!

I think Larry was happy.


Granny Sue said...

Larry was thrilled, Aaron. he had his ramps! and he got a whole load more yesterday. The rtide home was fine, didn't smell a thing.

No allergy problems all weekend. Amazing ;-)

Granny Sue said...

Rowan, there are storytellers there, Google Gail Zeiba; she is one I know, also Tim Sheppard and Janet Dowling. As in the US, storytelling is a small presence in most places. To call someone a "big name" in storytelling is to say that very few people have actually heard of them! But it is something we need, to keep the old stories alive and create new ones for future generations. There is a connection that happens with storytelling that is unique, I believe--it takes a roomful of strangers and makes them a community, just through the power of the spoken word.

Shirley Stewart Burns, Ph.D. said...

Sounds like a great time!

I am so pleased to see you mention Michael and Carrie Kline. They are great people! They are very caring and interested in the people that they work with...they do great work!

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