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Storytelling in Appalachia: Bringing people together through stories

As humans, we all enjoy telling and hearing stories – it is a integral part of our nature. So, how does storytelling play a role in different regions? I thought it would be best to speak with two current residents of the Appalachian region to hear their perspectives.

Storytelling allows us to understand not only those around us, but ourselves as well. Through the consumption of stories, we are able to feel empathy for characters we become attached to. From a young age, this allows us to deeply understand human emotions.

When talking to Appalachian natives, I felt it was important to first ask about their experiences with storytelling. Jane Taylor of Galax, Virginia spoke with me about the importance of storytelling in her life.

“Growing up, old wives tales were always told. The stories passed through generations, and probably changed a little bit each time, these were the stories you hold close to your heart,” says Taylor.

Taylor is an Appalachian native, but was born and raised in Millen, Georgia. She later settled in a southwestern Virginia town called Galax where she has resided for around 50 years. Southwest Virginia is known for very talented craftspeople, specifically storytellers. Living in this region for so long, she is a self proclaimed “expert” on her region.

“The stories we share are typically attached to the memories we have made,” said Taylor.

Think back to some of your favorite memories as a child. These are ones that typically feel nostalgic and magical depending on who you ask. When telling these stories to others, you have the power to make them feel exactly how you do about these memories.

Angela White works at the historical International Storytelling Center, located in Jonesborough, Tennessee. This is a place of history and tradition from Appalachian residents. They have archives of documents, pictures and anything else one could imagine that relates to storytelling in Appalachia.

“Stories hold power over people,” said White.

Each year, the International Storytelling Center hosts the National Storytelling Festival. This started as a way for people in the region to share stories -- traditionally old wives tales -- with each other. It has now grown so large that people travel from a multitude of other countries to be here and share their stories with whoever wants to listen. White shared her experiences from the 2022 National Storytelling Festival.

“It’s so special because we are hearing stories not only from our region in Appalachia, but all over the world,” says White.

Listening to others’ experiences and stories are how we grow and learn as humans. It is a part of our inherent nature. Humans are often described as “storytelling animals” by many. Gatherings like these prove how we are all deeply connected no matter what our experiences or backgrounds are.

“Storytelling has the power to bridge gaps between many cultures,” said White. “Sharing stories allows us to learn and understand others on a deeper level.”

Continuing to share stories is important as many stories are passed through generations. Without the continuous sharing of these stories, some of them might may been lost among an entire generation. In this digital age that we live in, sharing stories allows us to stay connected with each other.

Connection is a very important factory in the human experience. The next time you meet someone, rather than making small talk, ask them to share their favorite story. You might be more connected to them than you think.

First photograph from the Jonesborough Archives of the 1976 National Storytelling festival, second photo also from the Jonesborough Archives of the National Storytelling festival.


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