In view of the fact that Southern Appalachia is acknowledged to be a massive reservoir of traditional storytelling, Saundra Kelley’s objective is a daunting one: to identify, interview and publish 16 of the region’s most gifted and proficient “keepers of the oral tradition.” Kelley’s basis for selection appears to be diversity, reputation and experience, and the selected storytellers range from Cherokee tribal elders and Scot-Irish traditionalists to educators/teachers and artists who combine storytelling with poetry and drama.

The three Cherokees in this anthology – Lloyd Arneach, Jerry Wolfe and Marilou Awiakta – draw inspiration from their traditional folklore and mythology. In addition, all three perceive their roles to be keepers “of the flame.” In essence, the identity of the Cherokees (“who we are”) depends on the preservation of their stories.

Both Arneach and Wolfe are prominent as storytellers throughout the Southeast and are often called upon to perform at schools, universities and tribal celebrations. Wolfe is noted for his traditional animal stories and Arneach has acquired a reputation for finding universal themes in Cherokee mythology. Awiakta grew up in Oak Ridge, Tenn., and has gained considerable respect as a poet, author (Selu: Seeking the Corn Mother’s Wisdom) and storyteller. All three of these Native Americans stress the importance of retaining their authentic “voices” which are inherent in their folklore.

Storytellers such as Elizabeth Ellis, Rosa Hicks (wife of renowned storyteller, Ray Hicks), Ted Hicks (Ray and Rosa’s son) and Linda Goss have strong ties to traditional Appalachian storytelling (Jack tales and old stories passed down from Scot-Irish, German and French settlers). Both Ellis and Goss have direct ties to the Ray Hicks (Beech Mountain) folktale tradition. Both are especially noted for their treatment of the famous tales collected by Richard Chase (Jack Tales and The Grandfather Tales); Goss (from Alcoa, Tenn.) also combines music (especially bells) and poetry with her performances and has expanded her repertoire to include the Grimm tales and Uncle Remus. She is much sought after by schools, Afro-American storytelling events and universities in east Tennessee and the surrounding area.

A significant number of the storytellers interviewed in this anthology are noted for the fact that they have used storytelling as a springboard into other creative ventures. Sheila Kay Adams, a well-known folksinger from Madison County, has parlayed her “personal folklore” into a successful novel (My Old True Love) and short story collection; Betty Smith from Black Mountain, is an author, singer, playwright and storyteller. She has spent 35 years in the classrooms, concert halls and festivals of the Southeast and has received extensive recognition for collecting, singing and storytelling.

Angie DeBord, who is steeped in the history and folklore of her native Swain County, and is an actress (Roadside Theater) and playwright and draws heavily on her family tradition for all of her creative endeavors. Jo Carson (Johnson City, Tenn.), possibly this anthology’s  most prolific artist, excels as a storyteller, a playwright (“Daytrips”) and is recognized as the driving force in launching a series of community oral history projects; she is the recipient of the Kesselring Award for Best American Play. Charlotte Ross, in addition to being a noted storyteller and playwright (“My Grandmother’s Grandmother Unto Me”) teaches storytelling and folklore at Appalachian State University in Boone, N. C.

The editor says that yours truly, from Jackson County, has used his “personal mythology” and heritage as a basis for both his stories, his books (Mason Jars in the Flood) and his plays (“The Raindrop Waltz”). Dot Jackson lives in Six Mile, S.C.  In addition to being a gifted storyteller and journalist, Dot has produced numerous short stories and a remarkable novel, Refuge.

Both John Thomas Fowler (Spartanburg, S. C.) and James “Sparky” Rucker (born in Knoxville, Tenn.) identify themselves as a “storytelling musician.” Much of Fowler’s material comes from his travels as a folk music researcher/ consultant for the South Carolina Humanities Council. His ability to combine folk music and storytelling has made him a familiar and popular performer at concerts and festivals. Rucker’s religious roots (Church of God) have led him to a career of collecting folk music, touring with folk singers and participating in events as varied as the Civil Rights Movement, Black Storytelling Festivals, and the Jonesborough Storytelling Festival.

Kelley’s interviews with these 16 “keepers of the oral tradition” reveal a number of common themes. All of these storytellers identify their early inspiration as their grandparents. In fact, the majority attribute their love of the oral tradition – not to instruction or research – but to the influence of family and the common or “natural language” of Appalachia.

Although the majority of Kelley’s yarn spinners are active participants in “the Jonesborough experience” and they readily acknowledge their appreciation of the opportunity to meet and study the techniques of their peers, there is a strong element of individuality in many of them. Although they speak with considerable reverence about their respect for the honored practitioners of storytelling, there is considerable evidence of “maverick performers” - individuals who “go their own way.” Certainly, it appears that the most imaginative and gifted are not content to spend their lives in stasis, parroting traditional material (Jack tales, fairy tales, mythology, etc.) but prefer to: (a) either treat the old tales as templates that serve as a basis for a imaginative variations; or (b) create their own, original folklore ... or perhaps even design a new way to tell a story.


Southern Appalachian Storytellers: Interviews with Sixteen Keepers of the Oral Tradition edited by Saundra Gerrell Kelley. McFarland and Company, 2010. 215 pages.


(Gary Carden is a writer and storyteller who lives in Jackson County. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

The Haywood County Arts Council is proud to present Master Cherokee storyteller and historian Lloyd Arneach will perform at the Haywood County Arts Council’s Sunday Concert Series at 3 p.m. on Jan. 16 at the Haywood County Library in Waynesville.

An enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Arneach was born and reared on the Cherokee Reservation in Cherokee. He learned his first legends from two storytelling Uncles on the reservation.

His father was vice chief of the Eastern Band and his mother was the first woman ever elected to the Tribal Council. From 1970 to 1990, Lloyd traveled throughout the state of Georgia lecturing on Cherokee history and culture. This was done in his spare time while working for AT&T. In 1990, he added storytelling to his presentations on culture and history, and in 1993 began a full-time career as both storyteller and historian.

Arneach  presents his stories in a style that is humorous, informative and extremely moving. Lloyd’s stories range from the “old stories” of the Cherokee to contemporary stories he has collected, from creation stories to behind the scenes of “Dances with Wolves.” He tells stories of different Native Americans like Floyd Red Crow Westerman; Billy Mills, an Olympic champion; a young Cree Indian girl with no stories to tell; and a postmaster on the Papago Reservation.

He shares historical stories from a variety of Native American tribes. Some of these stories are difficult for Arneach to tell because of the strong feelings associated with his experiences as a Native American. Arneach will also have a number of Native American artifacts to show and demonstrate on Jan. 16.

Arneach has told stories at the Kennedy Center, National Folklife Festival (Washington, D.C.), the opening of the National Museum of the American Indian (Washington, D.C.), the Winnepeg International Storytelling Festival (Canada), festivals, schools, universities, pow-wows, theaters, and other venues throughout the United States. He has also told stories on the Discovery Channel. His CD Can You Hear the Smoke? features stories and legends adapted by Arneach. In 1992, Children’s Press published his book, The Animal’s Ballgame, based on one of Lloyd’s favorite Cherokee animal stories. During the summer of 2006 and 2008, Arneach performed in the Cherokee outdoor drama “Unto These Hills - A Retelling.” Lloyd finished a book of Cherokee stories, Long-Ago Stories of the Eastern Cherokee, that was released in early 2008. Lloyd now resides in Cherokee.

The Sunday Concert Series is co-sponsored by the Friends of the Haywood County Library. The concert is free and the public is cordially invited to attend.

For more information about the Sunday Concert Series, as well as other programs or events, visit the Haywood County Arts Council website at or call 828.452.0593.


Who: Haywood County Arts Council’s Sunday Concert Series

What: Native American Storyteller Lloyd Arneach

When: Sunday, January 16, 2011 @ 3pm

Where: Haywood County Public Library, 678 S. Haywood Street, Waynesville

There are two voices inside Sylva storyteller and playwright Gary Carden. One belongs to the mountain man of letters whom author Lee Smith coined “the Appalachian Garrison Keillor.” The other belongs to an orphaned child who clung to a pink transistor radio to make it through the lonely nights on Rhodes Cove.

“I was a damned lonely little kid, and I’d turn that radio on and it was like a bright night light,” Carden said, his voice turned sweet on the memories of his favorite ‘50s radio shows.

Carden is one of the most recognized literary voices in Western North Carolina largely because of his ability to communicate the authentic experiences and cadences of a mountain culture that is nearly vanished.

As an artist, the tension in Carden’s work is grounded in the double-consciousness of a man who knows firsthand the feeling of being “found wanting” and who still expresses pride in his heritage.

“I kind of turned into a missionary of some kind because I felt it was my job to communicate my culture,” Carden said. “Can you tell people about mountain dialect and the way my granddaddy lived without communicating ignorance?”

For Carden, the question is personal and not abstract. His father drove an oil truck and played in a mountain band until he was shot dead in his own garage by a loafer drunk on wood alcohol.

“It was an accident that didn’t make sense. That’s the kind that bothers you forever,” Carden said.

His mother, only 18 at the time of the killing, left him with his grandparents and went to Tennessee.

While his story is the type of Appalachian biography that reeks of authenticity, Carden reckons what makes him real isn’t his personal tragedy so much as the shared pain of growing up ashamed of his own voice.

“My granny warned me –– and most mountain people know this –– when I got out of college,” Carden said. “’Garneal,’ she said. ‘When you get out of here, you’ll be weighed and you’ll be found wanting.’ And she was right.”

Last weekend, Carden staged his play “Nance Dude” at Western Carolina University’s Coulter Auditorium to benefit the Friends of the Jackson County Main Library. It was the second performance of the two-part library benefit featuring actor Elizabeth Westall in two one-act plays that draw a line between history and folklore.

“It’s a special category. It’s history becoming folklore,” Carden said of “Nance Dude.” “There comes a time when people start decorating the facts and at some point the history becomes folklore.”

The play showcases two of Carden’s innate gifts: his ear for Appalachian dialect and his ability to normalize the brutality of dark mountain history with humor and humanity. “Nance Dude” re-tells the true story of a Haywood County woman convicted for the murder of her granddaughter.

Carden rem-embers his own grandmother explaining to him why his grandfather “didn’t laugh much.” She told the story of Kirk’s Raiders shooting down his great-grandfather in cold blood and leaving the body on the front porch.

“When my grandmother told me that story, she’d pull me right to her face and say ‘Don’t you forget what they did to Bryant,’” said Carden. “And of course I think that’s one of our greatest flaws as a culture ... the way we carry grudges.”

But “Nance Dude” also gets at the root of why Carden, now in his 70s, still burns hot in quest of his defining work. Carden has won awards as a writer and a storyteller, and honorary degrees as a folklorist, but he has never gotten the one acclaim that would put to rest the prophetic fear his grandmother instilled in him.

“My work has never been considered significant enough to be published,” Carden said.

Carden wonders whether his identity as a storyteller hasn’t limited him.

“Playwrights have a hard time. Poets have it harder. And storytellers have it the worst,” Carden said. “What do you do with a literate Appalachian storyteller? A mountain storyteller is supposed to be a hick with a wooly beard who’s never read a book.”

But Carden’s not making excuses. Instead, he’s still searching for his defining moment as an artist. He recently finished a play called “Signs and Wonders” that casts a light on the damage Pentecostal preachers from Bob Jones University did during their student auditions in mountain towns in the ‘50s. But he thinks there’s something bigger brewing in him.

“I’m kind of in stasis,” Carden said. “I need to do something significant. I’m bored and I’m not content with what I’ve done. I’ve got about 10 plays that need to get done and I know they won’t be.”

Some of Carden’s best written works are published in a collection called Mason Jars in the Flood & other stories. The autobiographical “Harley stories” are his version of Hemingway’s Nick Adams stories, autobiographical tales about growing up that carry both the personal and cultural angst of a moment in time.

Carden grew up in the mountains when the world was turning modern, and the mountain folk were being shut out of their own home. He became a man of letters, earning two degrees from Western Carolina University. When he writes about his childhood, he does it in clear and beautiful prose that hints at a fundamental conflict.

“You have to live in two worlds,” Carden said. “Culture demands it of you.”

Gary Carden, the artist, is still looking for the perfect way to call the world to account for the wrongs visited on Appalachian people since the Civil War and on his heart since his childhood. Like many writers, his thirst for success is fueled by a drive to hold life accountable for the pain it dispenses.

“My strength is the same as my grandparents’ inability to forgive,” Carden said. “I can’t forget things that are wrong. I want to see justice done.”

By Christi Marsico • Staff Writer

Capturing a grandmother’s story of survival, a fiancé’s sigh, or a best friend’s joke during an intimate interview is how StoryCorps allows people to connect with each other.

Recording the stories of our lives with the people we care about allows listeners to experience history, humanity and hope.

StoryCorps is an independent nonprofit project that is on a mission to honor and celebrate lives though listening. The project has partnered with National Public Radio and the American FolkLife Center at the Library of Congress to talk about the questions that matter.

Arriving in Asheville on March 23, the StoryCorps MobileBooth will be camped out by WCQS to collect the stories of Western North Carolina residents as part of its cross-country tour.

Since its creation in 2003, the project has recorded tens of thousands of everyday people interviewed by family or friends.

Each conversation is recorded on two CDs; one to take home and the other is archived at the Library of Congress.

With millions listening to the award-winning broadcasts on public radio and the Internet, selected stories have been published in the New York Times bestselling book, Listening Is an Act of Love.


In the beginning

StoryCorps was created by David Isay and has become one of the largest oral history projects of its kind. Isay is an award-winning documentary producer and a Macarthur “Genius” Grant recipient.

Isay wants people’s stories to matter and not be forgotten, and since its launch StoryCorps has traveled to every corner of America to record individuals’ stories in sound.

The project has collected interviews in over 100 towns in 48 states.

“By listening closely to one another, we can help illuminate the true character of this nation reminding us all just how precious each day can be and how truly great it is to be alive,” Isay states on the Web site


Asheville action

StoryCorps is one of the biggest events that has happened at WCQS in Asheville, according to General Manager Ed Subkis.

WCQS, found at 88.1, 90.5 and 95.3 FM on the radio, is a listener supported public radio that brings NPR, local news, classical, jazz and traditional folk music of Western North Carolina to its listeners.

“We’ve been trying to get them here for years,” Subkis said in an interview with The Smoky Mountain News.

Subkis added WCQS has been persistent with its requests for StoryCorps and is “very excited” the project will be in Asheville for six weeks.

StoryCorps MobileBooth, which is an Airstream trailer outfitted with a recording studio, will be outside the radio’s studio from March 26 to May 2.

Members from StoryCorps will assist in conducting the recordings with plans to collect 160 interviews while in Western North Carolina.

People interviewing will go into the booth and talk about the big questions of life for about 40 minutes.

StoryCorps is partnering with WCQS, which will air selections of the local stories and create special programs around segments.

Subkis expects a 100 percent turnout for the project, filling every slot available.

“It’s a conversation between people with an intimate relationship who are telling the stories of their lives,” Subkis said.

Subkis believes the StoryCorps will help share the personalities of the individuals of Western North Carolina illuminating the type of stories that come out of casual conversations.

He speculates stories about the Qualla Boundary and those who have “lived the Asheville experience” will be shared.

“We’re very happy it’s here and looking forward to the buzz,” Subkis said.


Sharing in the storytelling

Also sharing in the excitement for this project is the Blue Ridge Heritage Area that supported the StoryCorps’ Asheville residency with a grant.

The Blue Ridge Heritage Area was given three interview slots because of its sponsorship. They focused their choices on individuals who represented cultural themes of the area such as Cherokee, crafts, music and agriculture.

“We could have filled 50 spots with folks who represented this area with great stories to tell,” Penn Dameron, executive director of Blue Ridge Heritage Area said.

“I have had a lot of occasions where I was late because I needed to listen to the rest of a story on StoryCorps,” Dameron said. “They are powerful and great stories, which is a large part of what we do in telling the larger story of this region.”

Joyce Dugan was one among the selected interviews for the Blue Ridge Heritage Area.

Dugan, who served the Qualla Boundary as the first female chief, plans to talk about her years growing up.

“It’s wonderful opportunity to portray people in this region,” Dugan said. “The Blue Ridge and Appalachian area have gotten stereotyped and not portrayed well at times, and this gives us a good chance to shine.”

A seasoned interviewee, Dugan isn’t nervous about be recorded for StoryCorps.

“I pontificate well when I am talking about my heritage and my family. I’m comfortable talking about it, and I have had many opportunities to address it, and I say it like it is,” Dugan said.

For more information about StoryCorps visit

The second soul, that of physiological life, is located in the liver, and is of primary importance in doctoring and in conjuring. This soul is a substance, is not anthropomorphic in any, has no individuality, and is quantitative, there is more or less of it. Its secretions are yellow bile, black bile, gastric juice, etc. Destruction of the liver substance produces lassitude, the “yellows” (jaundice or hepatitis, or cirrhosis) or the “black” (deep depression or gall bladder attacks or acute pancreatitis). Exhaustion of the liver substance (absence of the soul) produces physiological death. This soul may be attacked by the conjuror, producing false “yellows” or “black” as “simulation diseases,” reproducing the symptoms of witch-attack, or it may be actually consumed by witches to produce the standard form of liver-gall-pancreas diseases. The witch lengthens its life by extra supplies of liver-soul.

— Frans M. Olbrechts, editor, “The Swimmer Manuscript” (1932).

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