Tuesday, September 10, 2019


Blog #10

At the National Storytelling Network Annual Summit
Fresno, California
July 25-28, 2019

The annual gathering of storytellers at the NSN Summit is a rich and diverse tapestry. Storytellers of all levels of experience, from brand new baby storytellers to the veteran and world famous, gather to share their love of story and the myriad of ways it can be experienced and learned. Here are the highlights from my trek to the West Coast.

One of the first tellers to cross my path was Michael McCarty, a teller from California who works in prisons just as I do.  I was having breakfast with Donna Washington, a storyteller from North Carolina, when Michael joined us. 
“You’re Michael Mc Carty! You work in prisons!  I wanted to meet you!”
“And you’re Beth Ohlsson! I include a copy of your article from Storytelling Magazine when I hand out information on my program in prisons! I wanted to meet you, too!” I was dumbfounded, to say the least. 

Michael works in 11 prisons in California, and considers it a ministry of sorts.  He also believes in giving away books, materials, and himself in search of the stories that will heal the broken souls in our prisons.  He is a person in long term recovery, as am I, and an absolute inspiration. We were old friends just who hadn’t met yet.

From there I went to a master class, “The Magic of Podcasts” with Anna Sussman, Managing Editor and Senior Producer of “Snap Judgement” which airs on 400 NPR stations.  It was a crash course in creating meaningful podcasts, full of practical advice and guidance from a woman who has reported on the ground in 15 countries.  Again, an absolute inspiration and call to action.

The keynote address by Charlotte Blake Alston was another call to action.  She said that the stories she tells, and encouraged us to tell, go “from the middle of me to the middle of you” …right to the heart.  She was adamant that telling the stories of our nation’s history is critical to the times in which we find ourselves, as those who do not know the history of our land are doomed to repeat it.   Almost 20 years ago, I had begun work on the story of Elizabeth Sewell, the first woman doctor in the United States, and shelved that project.  Charlotte’s talk nudged my Muse, who then nudged me, to pull it back out and finish it. Thank you, Charlotte!

And then there was my workshop.  I presented “Reaching through the Cracks” my prison storytelling program to 14 storytellers.  I had written and printed my curriculum so that anyone who would be so inspired could replicate it.  The word of mouth of those 14 storytellers inspired requests for 14 more copies of the curriculum!  Woo-Hoo! Planting those seeds was immensely satisfying!
I can only hope that those who do create a prison program in their home towns will let me know of their successes and challenges.

There is so much more to tell. In the course of attending other workshops, I discovered 3 new stories that are begging to be told. Thank you Anna Sussman, Andy Offutt Irwin, and Liz Mangual and Bob Kanegis! The discovery process is such a joy!

So my friends, rest assured that the National Storytelling Network will reconvene next summer in Atlanta, Georgia, to inspire us all once again!

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