Welcome to the National Storytelling Blog! Within our membership, we have people with expertise in all facets of storytelling. Here we offer their insights and highlight their stories for you to enjoy, learn, and connect.


Talk to me before you go . . . Before it’s too late

by Anne Tezon

“When you are young, your grandparents try to tell you their history, and you don’t care because it doesn’t interest you at the time. Later on, you wish you had written down what they said.”

A good friend shared that message on my Facebook timeline more than a year ago. I use it today in my PowerPoint slide presentations at workshops. Sometimes I reinforce those words by reading from the preface of my mother’s autobiography, which I published after her death.

“It is almost certain that our children and grandchildren are not much interested in our composition. When they are finally ready, chances are we will not be here to sing the song of our life. It is therefore vital to record the stanzas as they were written. It is our legacy and our responsibility.”

The four panelists who will summarize their family migration stories during the NSN conference this summer are recording their stanzas partly because I goaded three of them into it as part of a spiritual memoir group at church. The fourth panelist, a good friend, had already realized the urgency of recording her family’s ethnic and migration saga following the death of her mother and the remarriage of her father less than a year after the death.

Karen Cox’s grandparents landed in Pennsylvania after leaving Eastern Europe. They operated a bakery and Karen had almost daily contact with them, soaking up their ethnicity and folklore while seated around the family dinner table savoring sweet confections. Karen wants to capture those precious stories and preserve all the physical evidence of their lives for her son and for her siblings. She even has the leather suitcase her grandfather packed before he came to the U.S. She is documenting his stanzas.

Joseph Matovu had told the story of his exodus from Uganda to the U.S. so many times he was sure no one wanted to hear it again. Fact is, his son has not yet visited Uganda or seen the family compound that Joseph and his wife will return to in their older age. Joseph now realizes the need to document his cultural and religious heritage. Someday his son will want to know how Joseph has managed to thrive for most of his adult life in a wheelchair. And he needs to understand that his father had a profound impact on the entire city of Kansas City in his tireless advocacy for disabled accessibility.

Corey Sorio’s children tend to roll their eyes when she launches into yet another family story from the Philippines. But this retired nursing instructor, who regularly returns to her country and travels to others for medical missions, is writing stories so rich in detail and life lessons that when she is finished they will know her as an individual, not just a mother. She has preserved and celebrated her heritage by being involved in a Filipino music group and by cooking traditional foods for herself and her family.

Maureen Anunwa knows what it feels like to overcome the cultural limitations she inherited from her native Nigeria. She fiercely battled the assumptions that her countrymen held that would have kept her in a violent marriage, just because her husband’s family paid a bride price for her. She has shown her children that a woman of intelligence and determination can build a new life, in a new country. And just a few months ago, she brought her own three children out of Nigeria to live with her here. Despite some limiting cultural mores, Maureen teaches them her country’s values so they will not succumb to the disrespectful ways and attitudes of her country of adoption. She does this by gentle example, instruction and by leaving a written record.

Joseph, Corey, Maureen and Karen are documenting and preserving their family symphonies before the music fades into eternity. How about you? Will you sing the stories of your ancestors and of your own family? Or will the grave silence your personal folklore?

About Anne

Anne Tezon has been telling other people’s stories for decades, beginning at Mizzou’s Journalism School. After serving in the Peace Corps in Brazil, telling Brazilian stories, Tezon returned to the States to uncover rural Missouri stories as a newspaper editor. She later told the stories of farmers and agri-businesses for the Mo. Department of Agriculture, then came back to the small town she had served as editor. She purchased the paper and told stories for another 30 years, retired and moved to Kansas City in 2011. She is now a memoirist and book publisher . . . still telling stories.

Contact Anne

Website: http://personalchapters.com


Traveling Treasures

by Heather Forest

Ancient and epic tales have migrated with people wherever people have traveled the globe. Carried in the heart rather than the hand, these ancient narratives are humanity’s heirlooms. They have been preserved over time by the tongues of tellers and have migrated into literature, captured by scribes.

In my workshop intensive at the NSN conference I will be inviting people to embark on a fascinating global journey through time, place, and culture by exploring some of the oldest plots on the planet. Along the way we will meet Beowulf, Gilgamesh, Osiris, Odysseus, Gassire, and more. Beyond the concept of “the hero’s journey,” popularized by Joseph Campbell, these timeless tales illuminate “the hero’s choices.” Teaching leadership skills, heroic epics model how both the wise and the foolish characters experience the resulting positive or negative consequences that result from the choices made along the story’s journey. Ancient tales offer listeners and readers insights into the intimate, personal work of seeking to understand the meaning of life in the face of the inevitability of death. Powerful human emotions and recurring themes of natural disaster, supernatural forces, and parallel worlds flow through the heart of these ancient narratives. Addressing universal human concerns, these stories transcend their time and place and are still compelling and relevant for modern listeners. It is comforting to see that ancient people faced the same challenging choices that we still encounter today in our modern world. Perhaps their ancient voices can guide us on our way.

Heroic quests for victory, honor, wisdom, and order have long been common connecting threads in the multicultural fabric of epic tales. In my research, I’ve noticed an enduring belief pervading ancient stories that there is more to reality than meets the eye. This underlying assumption allows narrative space for mystical, supernatural, and otherworldly elements to intertwine with the mundane logic of ordinary day-to-day life.

There is much to learn about the creative writing process from investigating the popular oral fare of ancient tellers. It is fascinating to me that the compositional structure of traditionally oral tales has been echoed by writers across the centuries and has shaped our modern sense of story construction. In researching classic epics and ancient tales to feature in my books and share in my workshops, I constantly come upon familiar literary techniques such as weaving a backstory, unfolding parallel tales, beginning in medias res, framing one story within another, and using metaphor and a cast of dramatic characters to describe complex human predicaments. Oral tradition is the bedrock of literary expression. Modern literature still employs these classic narrative devices.

I hope my workshop intensive at the NSN Conference 2017 inspires participants to explore some of the ancient classics of storytelling and helps to deepen appreciation for the roots of our art form.

Come learn more about this topic at Heather’s workshop at the 2017 National Storytelling Conference, June 28-July 2, in Kansas City, Missouri. www.storynet.org/conference/index.html

About Heather Forest

Both an award winning storyteller and author, Heather Forest is internationally celebrated for her evocative retellings of multicultural folktales.

Heather Forest’s newest book Ancient and Epic Tales from around the World , published by August House, has recently won a 2017 Storytelling World Award, a Parent’s Choice Award, a NAPPA (National Association of Parenting Publications Award) and is an INDIES Book of the Year Award Finalist. She is currently offering workshops and concert performances based on the book. She is available nationally for festivals, conferences, workshops and storytelling concerts.

Contact Heather



Organizational Story for Learning, and Behavioral Change

By Tom Sparough

There are an unlimited amount of stories that could be useful on an organizational level. But, still, the every day worker today doesn’t see the benefit of stories.

In my NSN conference workshop, entitled “Generative Organizational Story: Opening the Borders Between Us and Them,” we will explore some of the benefits of storytelling, but in a focused way.

Generative story is an illustrative story that can lead to learning, understanding and behavioral changes. One could say that this could be the outcome of any story. But in this iteration of “generative,” we tell stories that are not directly related to the teller or the listener. In other words, we are eliminating personal stories.

Personal stories are a great way to share insights and teachings on the organizational level, but when we are trying to bridge the gap between us and them, it sometimes helps to put everyone listening, and the teller as well, on the outside of the story. In this way, if the story is compelling, everyone comes to the inside together.

To get some understanding of the benefit of this kind of generative organizational storytelling, let’s consider a sales manager who wants to help motivate his staff to work harder. With a common approach, he could spotlight one of his star sales people by sharing a story of something that person did that exemplified sales excellence. At times, that is appropriate, but at other times, it could cause animosity. Perhaps you can hear people saying, “Oh, he’s your favorite. Why can’t we all be like him?” It easily can lead to “us” and “them” thinking.

On the other hand, a generative approach might be more effective. For instance, the sales manager could tell a story about a person no one knows and spotlight actions that were either positive or negative. Then the staff could have a low stakes, but high engagement, conversation about what happened in the story. High engagement naturally happens with compelling stories. It is low stakes, however, because it is not about the people in the room. This could be very valuable for a contentious staff, or when talking about a sensitive issue, such as sexual harassment.

After initial discussion, with the generative story as an illustration, one can bridge directly into the listeners’ work by using questions like, “What do we see from this story that might apply to our work place?”

But, you don’t have to get direct. People learn from stories, even without directly discussing the applications to their lives. That makes sense, because when we are engaged in a story, in a sense we live it. And without even talking about it, perhaps not even thinking about it, we are led internally to make adjustments in our lives. Sometimes all that is needed is to hear the story and a seed of deep learning begins to grow.

Other times, for instance, when policy needs to be written or revised, we bridge into direct reflection with questions like, “Based on hearing this story, what are appropriate guidelines we might consider for our work place?” In this way, we are opening ourselves to “them” so that we might more fully and inclusively become “us.”

If you get a chance, come to the workshop to further explore this technique and to add your voice to the conversation.

About Tom

Tom Sparough is known as the Space Painter, because of the colorful mix of storytelling and juggling that he shares for his clients. He is a board member of the special interest group Storytelling In Organizations. Tom is currently experimenting with a series of generative ghost stories for business entitled “Managing the Dead, Ghost Stories to Keep Your Organization Alive.” Learn more and receive his monthly generative ghost story at http://SpacePainter.com.


Everyone Speaks Laughter

By Lyn Ford

In his 2001 Viking Penguin publication, Laughter: A Scientific Investigation, Robert R. Provine stated, “… ‘ha ha’, ‘ho ho’ or ‘he he’. These ‘words’ are part of the human universal vocabulary, produced and recognized by people of all cultures… There are thousands of languages, hundreds of thousands of dialects, but everyone speaks laughter in pretty much the same way.”

Dr. Provine, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at University of Maryland Baltimore County did ten years of research before publishing his book. But most people figured out the connection between laughter and communication at birth.

Response to a first baby coo, attempt to share a smile or spoken word, or basic narrative play probably encouraged us to share more, and we may not have cared why or how it worked. Laughter connected us to the heart and communal joy of our sounds and words. We felt good about and more confident in sharing.

My personal studies took me beyond the act of communicating laughter; I needed to find some stress relief. I was too busy with my writing, storytelling work, and home life; I was dealing with some health issues that still impact my energy. I was happy, but exhausted. I found a Laughter Club, then became a Certified LY Leader.

Learning and practicing laughter exercises did more than help me relax. I found ways to energize myself in the morning and relax before bedtime. I could breathe, stretch, and laugh my way beyond many allergy symptoms…the laughs sounded like a sick bear, sometimes like a foghorn, but they worked. Very good, very good…YAY!

I also learned joy-filled activities I could share with folks whose mobility was limited, folks who, for various reasons, led mildly to severely sedentary lives that limited their socialization. This knowledge led me to develop a laughter group at an adult daycare facility. Many participants didn’t respond to questions and in conversations, but they joined together in laughter.

I realized my introverted personality’s responses to getting on and off stage were reduced, sometimes gone. BONUS!!! I wasn’t agitated before I spoke, or too tired to shake hands and chat after I’d finished my programs.

Nowadays, when I initially meet strangers, I can take a deep breath, smile a real smile and laugh a friendly laugh that doesn’t sound like somebody dropped ice down my back. And I’ve started sharing breath and laughter techniques with others who are prone to pre- and post-performance stress.

I’ve become a Certified Laughter Yoga Teacher, teaching others to facilitate and share laughter, a trans-cultural gift of understanding. Everyone can speak laughter.

At the 2017 National Storytelling Network’s conference in Kansas City, Missouri, I’m offering my workshop, “Laughter, Breath, Joy:  Communal Communication”. With no barriers of language or cultural misunderstanding or misrepresentation, we’ll share techniques and gentle exercises that can relax us, energize us, and bring us all together.

Join us. Come and laugh, communicate, learn and play…ho ho, ha ha, very good…YAY!

About Lyn Ford

Lynette (Lyn) Ford is a fourth-generation Affrilachian storyteller, a nationally recognized workshop facilitator, and a published author. Lyn is also a Thurber House mentor to young authors, a teaching artist with the Ohio Alliance for Arts Education (OAAE) and the Ohio State-Based Collaborative Initiative of the Kennedy Center (OSBCI), a Certified Laughter Yoga Teacher, a grandmother, and a great-grandmother. Lyn’s 2015 book, Hot Wind, Boiling Rain: Scary Stories for Strong Hearts is also a creative-writing resource; Lyn’s fourth book (written with storytelling friend, Sherry Norfolk), Boo-Tickle Tales: Not-So-Scary Stories for Kids, is set for publication in the spring of 2017.

Contact Lyn Ford




Creating Connections, One Story at a Time

By Penelope Starr

Once a week I meet up with four friends and we walk a mile along a dry-river path to a coffee shop where we sip beverages, eat bagels and gab. Our ages range from late fifties to early eighties—we have more than three hundred years of combined life stories to share.

Last week we sat at an outdoor table overlooking a parking lot next to a middle aged man in a baseball cap who was reading while he sipped his coffee. I was facing him and noticed he was staring off into space rather than burying his nose in his book. It seemed like he was deliberately trying to look like he was lost in reverie but I knew he was straining to hear our conversation.

Our usual lively exchange ranged from the latest political scandal to vaginal plastic surgery. We told each other about having a difficult mother in assisted living and an ill child. We shared snippets from our outrageous pasts. With each intimate revelation, I glanced at the listener to confirm he was, indeed, following our stories. When he got up to leave we waved and said goodbye but he didn’t respond or acknowledge his eavesdropping. We all agreed that he had gotten an earful and an education.

Our walk-talks have cemented already strong friendships into something more akin to a community. We share our truths in a safe space, listening to each other with wonder and respect.

It reminds me of a community storytelling event. Everyone has a voice and feels heard. There is no censorship, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have our opinions. Our bond is the agreement to listen to each others stories.

This is what I’ve learned in the thirteen years since I created Odyssey Storytelling, a monthly community storytelling event in Tucson, Arizona. My original intention was to create an entertaining event by inviting local people to share their interesting and edifying stories with an audience. I have always loved listening to stories and I assumed that everyone else did too.

But I didn’t know how much more there was to community storytelling. Month after month I watched people gain confidence in their newly learned storytelling skills as they shared intimate details from their lives. I heard stories that bridged cultural divides. I was witness to prejudices softening and connections being made. I sensed profound and deep healing from tellers and listeners. I reveled in the pure democracy of uncensored voices. I experienced radical acceptance and deep empowerment.

My journey from story listener to story producer is a do-it-yourself tale. Enthusiasm carried me when experience was lacking. My strategy was to figure it out along the way. It worked for me but not until I suffered a few disasters and learned lessons the hard way.

I didn’t have a clear roadmap to follow so I decided to write a book to help others navigate this path. The Radical Act of Community Storytelling: Empowering Voices in Uncensored Events chronicles my journey, offering tips for success and pitfalls to avoid. But most of all, the book is about the stories I heard over the last dozen plus years that connected me to the amazing community of tellers and listeners.

Just like my walking group, community storytelling creates connections one story at a time.

About Penelope

Nothing in Penelope Starr’s background prepared her for her thirteen year adventure in community storytelling. Penelope taught herself how to produce a storytelling event, coach tellers, wrangle venues, make websites and market Odyssey Storytelling. Now, at seventy-one, she taught herself how to write a book about it. Look for The Radical Act of Community Storytelling: Empowering Voices in Uncensored Events, published by Parkhurst Brothers in 2017. Her next adventure is consulting with groups who want to start their own community storytelling.

Contact Penelope

You can find her on Facebook and at www.Penelopestarr.com.