National storytelling organization honors Lawrence resident who shares stories around the globe
photo by: Kathy Hanks
Once upon a time, Priscilla Howe quit her job as a children’s librarian, became a full-time storyteller and lived happily ever after.
That’s the abridged version of Howe’s life. The full story includes Howe recently returning home to Lawrence from the National Storytelling Summit in Fremont, Calif., where she was one of two recipients of the National Storytelling Network’s International Story Bridge Award.
The award recognizes “the exemplary work, dedication, and spirit of those individuals or groups that promote the art of storytelling in their own country or promote the building of bridges between their country and other countries,” according to the organization, which is based in Kansas City, Mo., and counts 1,600 individuals and groups among its members.
“In this technologically connected but personally disconnected time, we need stories, told face-to-face and heart-to-heart,” Howe said. “Shared stories can certainly bridge cultures.”
Home for Howe, 58, is a little North Lawrence house with a front yard filled with all kinds of blooming flowers and plants. Inside are more than 165 puppets that assist in telling stories to listeners of all ages around the globe. She says she does almost 200 events a year, from South America to Europe, and will be heading to China in the fall to teach preschool teachers how to tell stories.
She admits her personal story has been a happy one, albeit filled with a few twists and turns. She lived in Lawrence back in the 1980s for a time working as a Slavic collection cataloger at Watson Library on the campus of the University of Kansas. However, she realized academia wasn’t for her, and she went off to be a children’s librarian in Connecticut, where she was introduced to the world of storytelling. She even studied with a dance therapist to learn how to be comfortable in her body while telling stories.
“I took this leap to be a full-time storyteller,” Howe said.
With young children, she mixes stories, songs and puppets, while for older kids and adults Howe tells more sophisticated stories.
Not only does she perform folktales and stories from books, she sometimes tells her own stories, which she calls her “personal fiction.”
“My favorite story is the one I am telling at the time,” she said.
In 2015, Howe spent five months in Bulgaria on a Fulbright Scholarship, collecting stories, offering workshops and performing. She has been working on a collection of Bulgarian folktales for English-speaking audiences, which she hopes will be published soon.
“Folktales contain universal truths and a way to connect us all,” Howe said. “I love the timelessness of them.”
She also travels the state with the nonprofit Humanities Kansas presenting a program she developed called “Grimm for Grownups.” Rather than focus on more familiar tales like “Rapunzel” and “Hansel and Gretel,” Howe says she discusses the more “creepy tales” by the Brothers Grimm that were never intended for children.
While storytelling has taken Howe around the world, she also caters to her North Lawrence neighborhood. On Friday nights in August, from 7 to 8 p.m., she hosts a story night in her backyard at 415 Elm St. She says all are welcome, the young and old alike.