Art Talk with Kiran Singh Sirah of the International Storytelling Center

National Endowment for the Arts: Art Works Blog (Washington, DC), September 30, 2014


“When we bring people together to share stories, we create community. And that’s what happens at festivals, and that’s what I’m really interested in. It’s not the idea that when you come to a festival you listen to culture or that culture is static, but more the idea that people participate in shaping culture.”–Kiran Singh Sirah

This week more than 12,000 people from all over the United States and the world will arrive in the small, historic town of Jonesborough, Tennessee. They are gathering to celebrate the 42nd annual National Storytelling Festival, which takes place this weekend from October 3-5 at the International Storytelling Center. The Festival features hundreds of events, ranging from a Ghost Story Concert underneath the stars to a Story Slam competition, and brings together more than 25 featured tellers, including 2014 Poetry Out Loud National Champion Anita Norman. For the first time ever, the festival will be live-streamed from one of its performance tents on Friday, October 3, so you can catch Norman and many other performers live from the festival.

Sirah said, “Here’s my favorite memory from last year’s festival. As people started entering the town, you could see that many had been coming to the festival for years. But there was one particular gentleman–and we never spoke throughout the whole festival, but we kind of just looked at each other and smiled–he was this kind of old-time festival goer, and he wore this elaborate costume with a hat. And he had all the swatches attached to him from all the years that he had attended the festival. It was, you know, his special event for the year. Around that same time, I’d met someone in the local cafe that I go to for breakfast; a little girl called Katana, and she’s about 10 years old and the daughter of one of the waitresses. During the festival last year, Katana and I were sitting out on the steps of the cafe, and she told me a story about her cat dying. Then she looked at my swatch that I was wearing and she said, “Where can I get one of those?” And I said, “Well, you can have mine.” Last year was her first festival, and she really enjoyed it. She put last year’s swatch on the cafe wall, and no one’s allowed to touch it; she’s now a fan of storytelling. So this year, she’s going to be my guest at the festival, and she’ s going to get another swatch. So that was a really nice moment for me, especially seeing someone carry their first swatch, and then seeing someone coming back after 40 years; young and old fully engaged in storytelling in the same space.


Subjects Covered: storytelling festivals

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