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Archive for Sunday, October 22, 2006

Storyteller’s job spans country, world

October 22, 2006

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Serious buffoonery.

That's how Lawrence storyteller Priscilla Howe describes her style of relaying folk tales and other stories to children and adults.

"I tell them with a straight face most often," Howe said. "And yet the audience might be falling off their chairs laughing. Or not - sometimes it's very subtle."

The former children's librarian is now on her third stint living in Lawrence, and she has traveled around the region and world since 1993, telling and reading stories in schools, at festivals and other places.

Although she grew up in New England, Howe moved to Lawrence to be near some of her siblings. After earning a master's degree from Columbia University and then working from 1986 to 1988 in the Slavic Department for Kansas University Libraries, Howe moved to Connecticut to become a children's librarian for five years, when she first began storytelling.

Mostly, she performs in Kansas and Missouri, but next month she will travel to Arizona, her 18th state to tell a tale. She also performed in Bulgaria and travels to Belgium every two years.

Professional storyteller Priscilla Howe entertains 3-year-old Malachi Barron in the surgery waiting room Thursday night at Lawrence Memorial Hospital.

Professional storyteller Priscilla Howe entertains 3-year-old Malachi Barron in the surgery waiting room Thursday night at Lawrence Memorial Hospital.

"I'm very fortunate to have friends there who put me up," she said. "And I have several schools that I regularly go to, which is fun."

Explain your job as a storyteller.

I mostly tell stories in schools and libraries and festivals, occasionally juvenile detention centers, coffee houses or other places. I love telling stories to adults. Sometimes I get to do that.

Why is it important to tell stories?

We are story-making creatures. It's what we do. We all want to tell our stories. When I tell my own stories, what often happens is people come up and tell me their own stories. I love that. And so it's a really important way of connecting in this world that is so often disconnected.

It's a way that we can come together and connect. We have this shared history. If you've heard my story, you can refer back to that. I very firmly believe in the power of stories to connect people and ideas and cultures.

I love that form of connecting, but I also do it because it's incredibly fun.

Where do you get your story ideas? What is your favorite story?

I'm always reading collections of folk tales. I try to write often because that's where a lot of my ideas come up. I'll get some idea and hold onto it.

I watch people's reactions. That's how I can hone the story. I watch how people are listening. I watch how they laugh, so that's how I sort of shape stories.

(My favorite story is) the one I'm telling (at the moment). Because in my mind, there's only one big rule in storytelling, and that is only tell stories you love.

The one I get the most requests for is "The Ghost with the One Black Eye." Kids all over the world have heard that story. It's about a brave baby who faces down a ghost.

I heard that story first from (City Commissioner) Mike Rundle. And Mike heard it from another storyteller, who heard it from another storyteller and on back to the first kid who probably told it.

What do you enjoy most about living in Lawrence?

I live within walking distance of downtown, so I really enjoy the feel of the town. I love walking across the bridge and looking out over the river; the river's wonderful - a way to mark the seasons. It's such a friendly downtown, and it's an easy place to live.

What do you see as the most important issue in Lawrence?

I'd say that I hope we continue to preserve our neighborhoods and preserve our downtown and keep this unique feel we've got. It's alarming sometimes to see the sprawl.

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