Recommended diversions


The term “storytelling” has been acquired by a diverse number of creative folks from musicians (the late Harry Chapin, for example) to artists, filmmakers and writers.

However, I associate storytelling with the oral tradition — people who, unaided by music or special effects, can provoke wonder with their voice and their imagination. Here are some remarkable diversified “masters of the spoken word”:

Garrison Keillor

There is no doubt about it, Keillor is the reigning king of storytelling. I got hooked back in the 1980s when I began to tape the Saturday night broadcast of “Prairie Home Companion” on National Public Radio. No one can blend humor and pathos like Keillor. Classics like “Gospel Birds” and “The Fishing Dog” still resonate in every human heart (and they are available in some wonderful collections on I still cherish the tale of the 90-year-old woman in the Lake Wobegon hospital who shook her head at the young interns who were trying to jump-start her heart. “No more for me, thank ye,” she said.

Don Davis

Davis is North Carolina’s own storyteller, and he definitely has unique origins. He is a minister turned storyteller. (You would think it would be the other way around!) Many of his stories are drawn from Western North Carolina’s mountain culture (“Barking at a Fox-fur Coat”). Davis is an acknowledged master of the “tall tale” and has several books on the tradition of Jack Tales. His most popular tales are available in cassette and published anthologies (“Listening for the Crack of Dawn” and “Grandma’s Lap Stories”). In recent years, his tapes and books have vanished from local shelves, but he is still available from August House.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Without any doubt, Estes is the most unusual storyteller I have encountered. She is a Jungian psychiatrist who has attracted international attention for her use of storytelling as therapy. Her tapes and DVDs (there are hundreds of them) stress folktales that involve child abuse and abandonment (Cinderella, the Ugly Duckling, Hansel and Gretel, Snow White, etc.). Estes notes that many of her patients are abandoned children (although they may be 70 years old!) and identifies the characteristics that they have in common. According to Estes, abandoned children frequently become doctors, teachers and, yes, storytellers! Her works include marvelous collections that are drawn from different cultures, but are grouped around a common theme such as death, love or abandonment. Her tapes and books are readily attainable on the Internet.

— By Gary Carden

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