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From print to performance

These storytellers use more than words

(Left) Courtesy of Jason Stemple; (right) Courtesy of Milbre Burch

Author Jane Yolen, left, and storyteller Milbre Burch work to keep the art of storytelling alive in today’s technology-addicted world.

November 29, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CST

Storytelling isn’t just a technique to get little kids to fall asleep. In fact, Sarah Howard, the children and youth services coordinator at Daniel Boone Regional Library, says the library started a storytelling club with activities for older children. Today, storytelling is an interactive and entertaining art form for listeners of all ages. “I think that stories reflect things going on in people’s lives,” Howard says, “even if it’s not something going on in their life at that moment.”
Experience this art when award-winning writer Jane Yolen and storyteller Milbre Burch team up to bring
“Touch Magic … Pass It On! Explorations in Folklore, Fairytale and Fantasy.” Yolen will give lectures at Stephens College, MU and the Columbia Public Library, and Burch will perform Yolen’s stories at Columbia College. Boone County National Bank and MU’s Ellis Library will host exhibitions of illustrations from Yolen’s books and children’s books from her personal collection. The pair will also spend one day in Canton to conduct a writing workshop at Culver-Stockton College as part of the series.
“(Yolen) is legendary in the literature world,” says nationally touring local storyteller Beth Horner. “To be able to hear her speak in Columbia is a rare opportunity, and I would not miss it.”
A majority of Yolen’s stories come from motifs found in folklore and fairy tales, so they lend themselves nicely to storytelling. In addition to her lectures, Yolen will host a two-day writing workshop at Stephens. “As I write, I read my prose aloud, even the novels,” Yolen says. “I think that a good story should please both the eye and the ear.”
Storytellers
must have a passion for both stories as well as people and must be able to stand in front of a crowd and successfully connect with the audience. “What’s so important is properly communicating the story to another person by knowing what experience that person is bringing to the storytelling situation,”
Horner says.
The art of storytelling dates back to the beginning of verbal communication when the entire history of a culture was kept alive through oral tradition. “Often in the early days, stories were the way to help people survive in a world they couldn’t fully explain,” Burch says. “I’d say we find ourselves living in a world which we can’t fully explain once again. So stories once again offer some solace and a chance to transport us to our psychic selves.”
Howard says storytelling today builds cross-cultural knowledge, increases empathy and strengthens imagination. In a technology-loving world, however, the art might need to adapt to catch up. “This is a world where kids are wearing those iPods nonstop,” she says. “They don’t have any time to reflect on anything.”
Storytellers created a digital form of their art in an effort to appeal to today’s on-the-go generation. Horner describes digital storytelling as a combination of personal or family narratives and visual images — narration is imposed over images that have been drawn, painted, collaged or photographed. She uses this technique with at-risk teenagers at a youth detention center as an outlet to express their feelings. Yolen targeted this age group when she hosted a Q&A with teen writers after her lecture Wednesday afternoon at Stephens College.
The bridge between the modern obsession with technology and the ancient art of storytelling helps the art remain relevant. “I think stories have the ability to help people stop and think,” Howard says.
So sit back, relax, take a much-needed break from the fast-paced world, and listen to storytellers share their
art. “Storytelling — and not the use of tools or the opposable thumb — defines what it means to be human,” Yolen says.

Event Info

“Touch Magic … Pass It On!” Events

What: “Stories Are More … and Less … Than We Think” lecture by Jane Yolen
When: Friday
Where: 3:30 p.m. - Informal gallery talk with Jane Yolen at MU’s Ellis Library
5:30 - 6:30 p.m. – Reception, book signing and sales in the Cast Gallery, MU Museum of Art and Archaeology
6:30 - 7:30 p.m. – Lecture, Pickard Hall
7:30 - 8 p.m. – Interview with Jane Yolen filmed before a live audience, MU Museum of Art and Archaeology.
Cost: Free

What: “The Ready Heart” storytelling performance by Milbre Burch of Yolen’s stories.
When: Saturday
7:30 p.m. - Book signing and sales
8 p.m. - Performance
Where: Columbia College, Launer Auditorium
Cost: $10

What: Art exhibitions of original illustrations by many different illustrators created for Jane Yolen’s books
When: Through Sunday
Where: MU Ellis Library
7:30 a.m. - 2 a.m., Thursday
7:30 a.m. - 8 p.m., Friday
9 a.m. - 8 p.m., Saturday
Cost: Free
When: Through Saturday
Where: Boone County National Bank
9 a.m. - 5:30 p.m., Thursday and Friday
9 a.m. - 12 p.m., Saturday
Cost: Free
Call: 443-3131

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