Liz Weir is not only a storyteller, or seanchaí (pronounced shan-uh-kee, which is Irish for storyteller/historian) , but she also runs a hostel in Northern Ireland called Ballyeamon. I was lucky enough this summer to visit her hostel located on the Antrim coast near some of Ireland’s most stunning landmarks. Liz met me and my family with a warm smile, helped us get settled into her cozy “camping barn” and then took us to her favorite restaurant n the nearby village of Cushendall. Along the way she told us stories about the fairy trees, shared local legends, and told us about the famine cemeteries and crystal clear water of the Glens of Antrim. Liz’s love of the land, the people and their stories was apparent and her hostel is a direct reflection of that love. Ballyeamon is unique among the many hostels on the Emerald Isle in that there is a session room lined with books and musical instruments where locals and tourists meet regularly to share stories and music. Liz has created a place where people can come together to rest from their weariness and share their stories.
This gifted storyteller and author has been bringing people together since she landed her first job as Children’s Librarian for the City of Belfast in 1976. At that time “The Troubles” were at their height. “The Troubles” refers to the three decades of violence between elements of Northern Ireland’s Irish nationalist community (mainly self-identified as Irish and/or Roman Catholic) and its unionist community (mainly self-identified as British and/or Protestant). This conflict has had terrible consequences, with more than 3,500 deaths since it began. In a recent newspaper article Liz was quoted as saying her work as a librarian “was a great opportunity to work with people of all ages – not just children, but their parents, their carers, their teachers, and show them they could be children at a time when life was forcing them to grow up very quickly.”
“In 1985 I started an adult storytelling group at the Linenhall Library called The Yarn Spinners, and I had a dream that one day there would be story telling groups all over Ireland. That dream has sort of come true; there are now the Tullycarnet Yarn Spinners, the Dublin Yarn Spinners, the Cork Yarn Spinners, there’s a group in Castlerock now as well.”
“When we started off the Troubles were at their height, and somebody would get up and tell a story about an Orange Lodge dinner, and somebody else would tell a story about going to Mass. The fact was we were all listening to each other’s stories, and respecting each other’s stories, and I think that’s very important. If you listen to someone’s story, you’re giving the utmost respect.” The people of Northern Ireland have been trying to leave their troubles behind, so to speak. Peace has come in recent years through people finding common ground and setting aside their differences. Stories play an important role in healing and in finding peace. Liz has created a place where these stories can be shared and healing can continue.
Along with her work as a storyteller and hostel owner, Liz also works with a number of organizations, including The Early Years Organisation in which she conveys important messages to children, such as anti-bullying, racism, respect for the elderly, and more. She has written 15 books for use by the Council for Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment, and her latest book, When Dad Was Away, addresses the feelings of children whose parent is in prison. She also works with The Alzheimers Society. In fact, her work with this group would be taking her to Derry the day after our visit, where she would tell stories to Alzheimers patients as they traveled by train. She told me that she loves this work and the opportunity it gives her to reach out and help.
Liz has seen her share of troubles, as many of us have, but she has found a way to leave them behind by creating a life in which she can bring people together through story. Her hostel, Ballyeamon, shares its name with a traditional Irish lullaby which begins, “Rest tired eyes a while. Sweet is thy baby’s smile. Angels are guarding and they watch o’er thee.” It is a place where a weary traveler can rest their tired eyes and find comfort and a shared humanity in stories and song. Liz is the Angel watching over them all.
(Some quotes taken from Belfast News Letter, May 13, 2013
Ed Stivender was no newcomer to the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival when I first had the opportunity of hearing him tell a story. But prior to actually seeing him in person, I had checked out several of his storytelling cassettes and CDs from the Orem Public Library just to be a bit familiar with his stories as I was set to be an emcee that year. I discovered that Ed Stivender was cut from a whole different cloth, both as a man and a storyteller.
A devout Catholic, Ed had a rigorous Jesuit parochial school education, which afforded him the opportunity to add some levity to many things Catholic. A “Catholic Garrison Keillor” is what some have called him. Gifted with a razor sharp wit and more than a fair amount of musical talent on the banjo, his stories delighted me with their fresh approach to the familiar old stories, such a Cinderella and Jack and the Beanstalk. Having heard him on cassette, I anxiously awaited the opportunity to hear him in person. I was not disappointed!
Delighted by the two days of stories at Mt. Timpanogos Park in Provo Canyon, I eagerly looked forward to just what he’d pull out of his hat at the Saturday evening SCERA Shell “Laughin’ Night” performance where a jam-packed crowd of several thousand would be primed for the lineup of storytellers that evening. Ed was slated to be one of the last storytellers that evening, and the preceding tellers had so heightened the laughter and enjoyment of that evening’s stories that when Ed came to the stage we were ready for something extraordinary. Ed turned improv storyteller par excellence as he wove audience participation into a story that took more hilarious twists and turns than an old moonshiner’s still. The unbridled laughter was infectious. We all caught the storytelling bug that night!
If you have never heard Donald Davis tell his stories, then you’ve missed one of the great pleasures of life. His stories of deep curiosity and humor captivate audiences. They are not for children. Nor are they for adults. They are for everyone! No matter the age span in your family (or number of generations), Donald’s stories are an experience that brings recognition, smiles and laughter to all.
But they are more than entertaining. Donald’s stories satisfy. They fulfill our need to connect life’s experiences; to connect us to our own memories; to recognize our similarities with others and thereby connect us to our families, to our neighbors, and to our communities. He does this by using his stories as a mirror for us to explore and analyze our own lives. He does this by understanding how the brain works.
The brain has capabilities far beyond the one-track mode we usually operate in and I don’t need elaborate scientific studies to prove it. When listening to Donald’s stories I clearly see the antics of Donald convincing his little brother to try walking on the “hard shell” of cow pies; the trying-hard-to-keep-from-smiling face of his father as he assigns proper punishment to Donald for cutting his brother’s curly locks; his mother’s scream as a snake crawls across the dashboard of the car she’s driving, or her stance as she says for the millionth time, “That’s just what mothers do;” or Uncle Frank in his Sunday suit after he’s saved the proceedings of a funeral by removing a skunk from the open grave.
But simultaneously I am also seeing my brother and I as six- and seven-year-olds convincing a younger brother to walk under a peach tree with rotten fruit hiding in the tall grass beneath it; my brother not speaking to me all summer after I gave him what most would have thought was a great haircut (I’d been to college and didn’t know he had developed a sensitivity about showing the tops of his ears); my mother cleaning the shower and finding the missing-for-six-months garter snake a brother had brought home from scout camp, and words from my mother I had disliked hearing as a child pass through my lips to my own children; and me in my Sunday clothes running round and round an old Volkswagen van trying to shake a large, smelly, amorous goat until being saved by a neighbor, the goat’s loving owner. I am fully participating in both stories at the same time (Donald’s and mine) while creating a third story, that of the reality of me sitting with family and friends in a performance tent, listening to Donald, and the additional stories we generate as we share that experience.
Like his stories, Donald’s storytelling retreats are also about people. And, not surprisingly, it is people who make stories. As Donald puts it, “Stories are the trouble people have and then how they resolve that trouble through their own devices or through the help of others.” Folks just need a bit of help untangling the strands of life to find the beginnings and endings so they can share their stories with their families, their children, and their grandchildren. Then, after a story has been told and told again and you know just what has to be included for listeners to understand it, the story is ready to be written. What a fun way to share and bequeath personal and family history!
Grab the opportunity this summer and run, don’t walk, to Donald’s performances at the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival. Or, begin your family history by participating in one of his storytelling retreats. See you there!
Ten Things About Carmen Deedy You Might Not Have Known
As one of our favorite tellers, Carmen Deedy is pretty well known. You’re probably familiar with the fact her family left Castro’s Cuba and were refugees when she was just a very little girl. You probably know she’s an award-winning author and successful editor. You most likely know she’s got a wit so sharp you can shave with it. Here are a few things you might not know:
1. Carmen is married to folk-singer, songwriter, storyteller John McCutcheon, another Timpanogos Storytelling favorite. They live near Atlanta, Georgia, and Carmen’s amazing parents live with them.
2. Bil Lepp performed the wedding ceremony for Carmen and John McCutcheon. He was not wearing his baseball cap at the time.
3. Carmen and John have a saltwater swimming pool and each of them have a separate studio at home for working on their individual projects.
4. Carmen knits! In fact, she’s very accomplished in many styles of needlework, including needlepoint, knitting, and smocking. She has an artist’s eye for color and design. It might be hard to imagine but she really does love to sit and knit. For a Cuban Firecracker, she’s also very homey and calm.
5. One of the most important individuals in Carmen’s life is George Bailey. He is an intimate confidant, insightful advisor, and humble companion. But John isn’t even jealous! Ask her about George. He’s really quite remarkable.
6. Carmen loves Jell-O; pudding or gelatin, especially sugar free. She also would like to know where they keep it at Harmon’s on 800 North in Orem. Bring her a box of Jell-O while she’s here—she’ll love it!
7. Carmen is an anglophile and bibliophile. If you don’t know what those are, look ‘em up.
8. Carmen will slay you in Scrabble or Words With Friends. Unless you are fellow author Rick Walton.
9. If you really want to see Carmen light up like a fiesta, ask her about Ruby. Carmen’s big brown eyes will sparkle like the gem itself, and she is likely to whip out her phone and show you pictures. (Hint: Ruby is her granddaughter!)
10. Carmen will wear herself out quickly for others, and when she is here, it is a full-time job to keep an eye on her to make sure she doesn’t do too much and exhaust herself. You see, there is only one of her, which will never be enough for all of us who love her!
Welcome! If you are viewing this, welcome to the family of the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival! We have so much to share with you!
It has long been our desire from the beginning to make information about the power of storytelling more widely available. This new website and blog will help us connect across the miles and in our own neighborhoods.
Let us introduce you to the new website:
- NATIONAL EVENTS CALENDAR – Storytelling is an oral performing art, and one of the best ways to experience storytelling is by attending a festival, workshop, or other story event. We know amazing things are happening all across the country. We welcome all storytelling festivals and events to be scheduled here.
- STORYTELLING – Do you have a story to share? This is a place to preserve stories: personal, family, historical, funny, etc. As you discover and record your own stories, this is an ideal way to share them. They don’t have to be long or of huge import to be shared. We want to hear from you. Also in the story collection you will find information about the benefits of storytelling, what it is and how to do it. In addition, we provide an ongoing and updated list of storytellers and how to reach then. We offer a glimpse at their schedules so you can see what they are up to and where they will be.
- MARKETPLACE – We provide a marketplace of items and resources for anyone interested in storytelling. It’s the perfect place for the beginning storyteller, the hobbyist, and for the parent looking for good entertainment. We also sell Festival merchandise and artwork.
- TICKETS – When it all comes down to it, we host the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival, the Timpanogos Storytelling Conference, and many other events, workshops, and retreats throughout the year. This is the place to buy your tickets.
- BLOG – Let’s chat! Let’s chat about Timpanogos Storytelling – let’s “Timp chat!” Come to the blog often to see what is happening as we prepare for the Festival which is in just a couple weeks. We will have insider information about the storytellers and tips and tricks to having the best experience at the Festival. Come back again and again for fresh new information and insights about storytelling throughout the year.
- GET INVOLVED – Information about how to volunteer, donate, and sponsor are also available. In addition, this is where you share your story with others and how to contact us.
THIS WEBSITE IS FOR YOU!
Again, welcome. This website is truly for you, if you have ever:
- been asked to tell a ghost story at a scout camp
- had your children plead for a story at bedtime
- had to speak in front of a large audience
- tried to recall or write your own family stories
- interviewed for a job you really wanted to land
- stepped in as a substitute with a thirty students to teach
- lead your team to reach a workplace goal
- sell a product or service
- introduce yourself to someone new
- or any number of other situations in which you needed to communicate with people
Yes, this website is for you! Check it out, and we’ll see you at the Festival!