STORYTELLING IN OKLAHOMA CITY: 1960-2000. (In progress)

Storytelling” has been described as the writing of a book, the reading of a book aloud, the acting out of a book’s story, the creation of images to convey a story line, and the process of orally conveying a story. It is entertainment, it is a folk art, it is theater… This fluidity of definition has resulted in more than a little confusion by journalists, publicists, and the public.

In 1943 columnist, Edyth T. Wallace queried if storytelling for small children had become a lost art. She urged parents and others to see that it did not disappear and recommended a book and a brochure she had found to provide tips for learning and sharing stories.

“Story time starts at City Libraries” declared one OKC headline in 1965 about a “spring storytelling cycle being readied by the local system. They may have been influenced by the highly successful work of Augusta Brown in New York. Contextually it is apparent they meant the tradition story “reading” of a printed book to a group of children[2]. The next year, however, in “Libraries Slate Storytelling” it is pointed out that children would be given opportunity to “listen to the centuries old art of storytelling” implying it was focusing more on the oral tradition[3].
In 1972, Clair Jones, of the speech and theater department at OCU, conducted a worskshop on Creative Dramatics and Storytelling” at the university.

Storytelling found a regular home in Oklahoma, as elsewhere, in the annual summer break programs offered through local public libraries.

While delighting children everywhere, storytelling was also being rediscovered as a viable and entertaining pleasure for adults. In 1973, the now famous Jonesboro Storytelling Festival in Tennessee was born proving that storytelling had a wider appeal than just for the nursery set.[6] It had proven itself entertaining to a wide age group, but it was also being suggested by academics that storytelling could be useful in many disciplines. In an AP story by George W. Cornell in November of 1973, Harvard theologian Dr. Harvey Cox expressed the need for theologians and the church to reclaim storytelling.[7]

The local library system of OKC, the Metropolitan Library System, continued its annual “storytelling workshops” at three libraries who repeatedly served as hubs in the 1970’s and 1980’s for such events: Southern Oaks, the Downtown library, and the Ralph Ellison branch. Presenters at these training events included Roxanne Rhodes, Donna Deniston, Karen Jones and others. In 1977, the MLS was even “looking for storytellers” to be trained to learn “book selection, storytelling techniques, and theme ideas” for preschool storytimes in area libraries.

Into the 1980,’s storytelling continued to be encourage and promoted at OCU under Claire Jones and in the public libraries. It was also being introduced into retirement centers as well.

In 1982, Linda Levey, along with the OKC Arts Council, the MLS, and other groups launched a “storytelling festival” event aimed primarily at adult audiences and “WinterTales” was born. A year later, Levy, along with Lynn Moroney of the OKC Arts Council were sharing stories in a multi-arts venue called, “Festifall”.

Ann DeFrange, local journalist, interviewed in 1986 visiting storyteller Bob Wilhelm, a featured teller at that year’s “WinterTales”. The focus of the event was to be to revive “our native skills to communicate to other people.”
[10] Oklahoma City had been involved in reviving this skill for a number of years already.

The groundswell of a storytelling renaissance blossomed from the folk music movement in the early 1960’s. The nations approaching bicentennial, when all things in the communal past were revisited, and re-discovered, saw a revival of many “folk arts” and storytelling was one of those. Just as the Jonesboro Storytelling Festival provided a impetus in the 1970’s the development in 1988 of an “evening of storytelling” called “Tallabration!” would do the same for the next two decades. [see entry on the history of the event in Oklahoma).

Some segments of Oklahoma society needed little effort to “rediscover” storytelling, since they had kept the flame of custom in their cultures. Oklahoma’s rich palette of ethnic groups included Asians, Native Americans, Europeans, and African-Americans. This meant that a vital, often untapped and sometimes unappreciated, treasure of knowledge, instruction, and history was waiting to be shared. Te Atw, the Chickasaw stotyeller was one early notable individual. In 1996, Tulsa based Miscogee Indian, Wilburn Hill noted he had been brought up to be a tribal storyteller.
[1] Wallace, E.T. “Is Storytelling for Small Children Becoming a Lost Art?” The Oklahoman (Jan.14, 1943:6).
[2] “Storytime Starts at City Libraries” The Oklahoman (Feb.9, 1965: 26).
[3] “Libraries Slate Storytelling” The Oklahoman (Jan. 25, 1966: 38).
[4] ‘First Workshop Today” The Oklahoman (Sept. 30, 1972: 7).
[5] “Libraries Sets Special Events for children.” The Oklahoma (June 2, 1972: 37).
[6] “History of the Festival” at http://www.storytellingcenter.com/festival/history-fest.htm
[7] “Christianity Needs To reclaim Storytelling”. The Oklahoman (Nov. 23, 1973:94).
[8] “Libraries Looking for Storytellers.” Te Oklahoman (Aug.19, 1977:22).
[9] “Retirement Home Plans Storytelling as Regular Activity.” The Oklahoman (Aug. 3, 1982: 42).
[10] “”Storytelling Art Form Worth Keeping Forever.” The Oklahoman (Jan. 26, 1986: 96).

Note: This is a research project, in progress, any additional information and names will be welcome. Email: marilynahudson@yahoo.com or just leave a comment.

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