“The universe is made of stories, not atoms.”
Spoken like a writer! We storytellers tell the tales that bind wounds, open hearts, and keep the earth spinning on its axis. And one of the things that keeps us inspired and juiced is being around other storytellers and hearing what they have to say. One of the best possible places to do this has to be The National Storytelling Festival which takes place the first full weekend in October each year in the small but sprightly town of Jonesborough, Tennessee. Why Jonesborough? Now that’s a story!
Over 40 years ago, a high-school teacher, Jimmy Neil Smith, had a carload of students with him when they heard Grand Ole Opry regular Jerry Clower spin a tale over the radio about coon hunting in Mississippi. This story inspired Smith to start something big: On a warm October weekend in 1973 he organized the first National Storytelling Festival in historic Jonesborough. The stage? Hay bales and wagons. Attendees? Together the audience and tellers didn’t number more than 60.
Now in its 41st year, the festival attracts thousands of visitors and storytellers from around the world. Known as one of the Top 100 Events in North America, it has ignited a renaissance of storytelling across America, fueled in part by the National Storytelling Association which was founded by Smith and a few other dedicated story lovers. Each year, the festival draws teachers, healthcare workers, librarians, spiritual leaders, parents, writers, and word-lovers from across the country and even overseas.
It sounds like one big party! Storytelling takes place in circus-style tents in downtown Jonesborough — and there’s music, dancing, and other fun events. Some families have been attending the Festival for years and many inns and hotels are booked way in advance. As one woman who’s been attending for 30 years put it, listening to other people tell stories “helps you get in touch with who you are. It makes me feel that I know them. In fact, I know that I do.”
What an inspiring event! Think I’m going to put this on my bucket list. Write on.