The Joys of Storytelling
The crickets in the bushes have started their chirping, though the last red glow of the setting sun is still lingering in the western sky. Dinner is already over, and the womenfolk are in a hurry cleaning up. The children, impatient as ever, have already ran off towards the village center, not waiting for mother or grandmother. Groups emerge from the houses along the street and move off, excited voices filling the air. The torches lighting their path in the swiftly darkening night all appear to be converging on one point… the village center. This is one night nobody wants to be away from there… yes, the story teller is visiting the village!
This is a scene repeated a million times over in a million villages around the world. The languages will be different, the stories will be different, the people listening will be different… but the enchantment of stories is universal. Every one of the ancient cultures has a story telling tradition, where good fairies and bad witches and folk heroes and sweet damsels all make appearances to charm an enthralled audience for hours together. Many of the classical dance and song forms actually follow the storytelling traditions.
As stories and storytelling largely moved over to printed books and later, to celluloid, the human interaction of the community storytelling is one of the sacrifices we made to the modern life. However, have you noticed the interesting new efforts to revive the storytelling traditions in the modern context?
Foremost among these is The Moth. Anyone listening to NPR even infrequently, will be familiar with The Moth Story Hour, where the stories from Moth stages are repeated on the radio. The Moth is a not-profit organisation dedicated to the art and craft of storytelling. Events are held at various parts of the country and abroad. Anyone can pitch a tale and selected stories are narrated in front of a live audience. People from various walks and stages of life participate in the event. The stories are as varied as the people who tell them, and of course they are very interesting.
Interesting in the sense that they will make you laugh, think, sympathise… even teach you something new, often all at the same time. I listen to them on the radio and have been thinking of attending one of The Moth StorySlams, an open-mic storytelling competition held in New York every week. One of these days… maybe even participate. 🙂
Another storytelling effort is StoryCorps, an oral history project, run by an independent non-profit organisation. Participants – there has to be two, as it is recorded as interviews – go to the StoryCorps booths and record the conversation. These conversations are preserved at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Since 2003, StoryCorps has recorded and archived 45,000 conversations. You can listen to a sampling of these conversations here.
Did you know that a National Storytelling Festival takes place in Jonesborough, Tennessee every year, during the first full weekend of October? It is conducted by the National Storytelling Network, dedicated to advancing the art of storytelling. It is a three day outdoor festival, with storytellers from all over the world participating and an estimated audience of over 10,000.
The National Storytelling Network conducts events all over the country, showcasing storytelling. Here is a calendar of events, in case you want to check them out.
Happy storytelling/ listening!