Moss, is humor writer from Tennessee. She writes a
weekly human interest column about daily life and the funny
things that happen to everyone.
She has written for the Daily News of Kingsport, Griffin Journal,
Oakridge Now, Atlanta Woman Magazine, Aberdeen Examiner, Angleton
Advocate, and Smyrna AM, a supplement of the Murfreesboro Daily News
Journal. She has been
published by Voyageur Press, McGraw Hill, and the good folks
at Guidepost Books. Her articles have appeared in
numerous anthologies and other publications, both in print and online.
She is a
former board member and past Editor of the Columnists.com, website of the National Society of Newspaper
oldest and largest professional organization
for columnists. She is the Web Editor of
Humorists.com and a founder of the Southern Humorists writers'
organization. She is writer, editor, and webmaster of HumorColumnist.com.
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Online Since 1999
of you probably didn't miss me, but I was gone last weekend to a
storytelling festival in the mountains of East Tennessee. It was in a
tiny town called Jonesborough, also known as the oldest city in
Tennessee. It was a quaint little village ready for company, dressed
in its fall finery of mums and pumpkins on bales of hay.
"What's storytelling?" asked my partner when I first
mentioned going. He would have to ask, wouldn't he? But, actually, the
term "storytelling" is pretty self-descriptive.
You have heard comedians like Bill Cosby tell recollections from their
childhood, usually with humorous twists. Probably you have a family
member that can relate anecdotes about your relatives that have been
passed from generation to generation. This is what storytelling is:
People telling stories, often funny, sometimes poignant, usually about
their own experiences, sometimes folktales from literature.
In Jonesborough storytelling has been taken to another level and has
become an art form. The storytellers are professionals who tell their
stories from place to place.
The history of how the little mountain town of Jonesborough became the
storytelling capital of the nation is a story itself. It seems that
like many small towns, it was slowly decaying. A teacher heard Jerry
Clower telling a humorous story on the radio and thought, "Why
don't we have a gathering and invite people who can spin a good yarn to come?" And so they did.
Year after year more people came to listen and the festival grew until
it became a three-day celebration that takes over the town for a
Since there is no building large enough to hold the crowds, the
festival is held outdoors under the shelter of large circus-sized
tents. The night we arrived it rained and a cold front moved in. In
the morning, the weather was damp and cold. We found chairs in the
main tent and camped out on them all day, daring not to both leave at
the same time lest other eager listeners grab our spot. I'm sure the
souvenir folks must have done a booming business in sweatshirts.
the audience shivered and complained good-naturedly, the show went on.
My nose and toes felt like I was attending football game, but I sat
tight. The tents were packed as teller after teller took the stage and
captured the audience with the magic of their stories. No money was
wasted on elaborate staging, just a stool or a chair, large speakers
and a microphone. The show was simply the story and your imagination.
We lived on pizza and hot coffee the first day before we found out
that we should have brought snack food with us. Leaving to eat dinner
or stand in food lines meant loss of our spot and being relegated to
listening from the back of the tent, a fate worse than cold pizza.
We watched, applauded, and listened hour after hour and into the
night. We knew if we left we could miss the best part, whatever that
is. I don't remember laughing so hard or so much in a long time. Each
storyteller was different, as different as the stories they shared.
Most of the audience had been there before, some over and over during
the 34 years that the festival has existed. Some of them looked almost
as old as the folktales.
It was an adventure, a moment of shared experience, a link between the
past and the present, a tradition that has became an institution, but
one that maintained its rural mountain roots and the flavor of
southern hospitality. We were sorry when it was time to go home. And
that must be why they come over and over again, to listen, to share
the experience, and to enjoy the magical spell created just by the
telling of stories.
Copyright 2006 Sheila Moss
Nashville, TN 37219
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