When the National Storytelling Festival started in Jonesborough, Tenn., the town of 5,900 was “sleepy.”
Now the festival, in its 43rd year, is a Smithsonian affiliate member, and it draws people from around the world to Jonesborough on the first full weekend of October.
Storyteller Sheila Arnold of Virginia, who has participated in that festival, wants to see the same thing happen to Paris, so she has helped to organize the Paris Storytelling Festival, May 12 to 14.
Arnold came up with the idea for the festival after she met a Bourbon County couple, Mary and Jim Lovell, at the national festival about a decade ago. Arnold, who has performed throughout the schools in Bourbon County, said she loves Paris, and she thought a storytelling festival would work in a small-town atmosphere.
The Paris Storytelling Festival will include storytelling workshops, a dinner and storytelling sessions, many of which are free. Storytellers expected to attend include nationally renowned storyteller Bil Lepp, Arnold, and Kentucky storytellers Mary Hamilton of Frankfort and Don Creacy of Stamping Ground.
“It’s a small place, but there’s a lot of history,” she said. Before the festival began in Jonesborough in 1973, the town was “sleepy” and nothing happened, Arnold said. Now, the festival attracts 10,000 people to the state’s oldest town.
Arnold described storytelling as more than just telling a tale.
“What you’re doing is you’re going to a place where the people that tell you the stories make you see the story in front of you,” she said. “It’s as if that person has become, as they speak, a moving theater, a screen, and they can actually bring the story alive in your head. It’s an extraordinary experience to be taken on a trip and you never move from your seat.”
The festival, May 12 to 14 in downtown Paris, will include workshops at area schools, storytelling workshops for adults, and the four featured storytellers. They all have specialties, including ghost stories and personal anecdotes. Arnold said she has a varying style, taking listeners on a trip to Africa or the the wild West.
Mary Lovell is looking forward to that weekend in May. “We’re really excited to be starting it,” she said.