It was so nice to be back in a place that has sweet tea, Southern accents, and three-dimensional geography.
And even better to be among people of story.
I drove down to Kentucky with Kevin Cordi, and as it happens when storytellers travel together, the time zone wormhole was not the only thing that made the road seem shorter. We arrived just in time for the Friday night concert. Both featured tellers, Judy Sima and Pam Holcomb, were spectacular, and a fitting welcome to the participants of the conference. I know Judy well, and her touching, eloquently told story of family and immigration was mesmerizing. It was my first time hearing Pam, but she in an instant favorite; she is hilarious and at the same time heart-warming, both on and off the stage.
I like how the KSA did open mic: They had three separate hats labeled "I have never told before" "I tell some" and "I tell a lot" so that everyone could put their name in the hat they were comfortable with, and everyone would get an equal chance to tell (instead of being flooded out by the confident, experienced tellers). It was a lovely system, and it worked out really well. Two of my new favorites from the weekend were Larry Staats (who left me in tears of laughter) and Octavia Sexton (who is a wild, wonderful lady, and a great teller of Jack tales). I was also very happy to see youth tellers on the stage (they call them Torchbearers here); they did an excellent job, fit to be in a lineup of grown-up and even professional tellers. The Friday evening story slam was similarly fun, and I especially liked the tie-breaking tell-off when two storytellers of equal scores faced each other once again in four-minute stories (and would have gone on to three, two, and one, which I would have loved to witness).
Saturday was a day of workshops interspersed with open mic. I spent the morning with a small group visiting the folklife archives of the Kentucky Museum at WKS. We got to dig into the files and play around with collections of jump-rope rhymes, wart cures, comic love songs, quilt patterns, and, of course, folktales. We also took a quick tour of the exhibitions and the log house, and returned to the hotel full of new ideas and research inspiration. I thought visiting the local museum was a great idea for a workshop. Definitely a keeper.
In the afternoon I participated in Kevin's workshop on play and word-dancing. The room was absolutely packed, and the next 75 minutes felt like being caught in a whirlwind in the best possible way. Kevin encouraged us to play, to experiment, to create, and to support each other's ideas. It was a fun workshop to do, and a great group of people to play with.
In the last slot of the afternoon, it was my turn to present. My workshop was titled "StorySpotting - Creating a bridge between storytelling and popular culture" and I talked about what we can learn as storytellers from popular media and internet fandoms. I had a captive and cheerful group, and I personally really enjoyed sharing my nerdy side with storytellers (almost as much as I enjoy sharing my storyteller side with people in the pop culture department). I think it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship between traditional storytelling and pop culture. I will work more with it in the future.
I would like to make a special mention of how supportive KSA was of people with disabilities attending the conference. They were attentive, organized, and courteous. Not only were all the performances and workshops interpreted in sign language, but we also learned as tellers and presenters a lot about how to shape our work to help the interpreters do their job, and provide a good experience to every participant in our workshops. Every conference should follow their example.
All in all, it was a lovely weekend adventure in the world of story. The conference was friendly and well organized, and we were all welcomed with an open heart. As someone who travels a lot to a lot of events, I'll say that the KSA conference is definitely one of the great ones. I can't wait to visit again next year.