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New book on history of Oklahoma storytelling brings stories center stage

Shaun Perkins / Red Dirt Report
Marilyn Hudson at the Spirit of Oklahoma Storytelling Festival, held at Southern Nazarene University, Bethany.
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TULSA, Okla. - Which of your family members were the storytellers? The ones everyone gathered around and got silent for? The ones who knew how to embellish the telling of a personal event just enough to make it both believable and entertaining? All families, all tribes, all groups have them. They are the center of most communities.

And yet, the storytellers and the act of storytelling often are overlooked and undervalued by our culture, our families, and our social setting. Part of Norman author and storyteller Marilyn Hudson’s mission was “to help the art achieve some recognition in the state’s history” in writing her recently published book on Oklahoma storytelling.

In a recent interview at the Spirit of Oklahoma Storytelling Festival, held at Southern Nazarene University, Bethany, Hudson talked about her book Stories Center Stage! Storytelling in Modern Oklahoma (published by Whorl Books). Hudson said, “I wanted to introduce the state to people currently telling because they are incredibly talented and seldom get recognition at storytelling.”

Hudson, an OU graduate and collector of “weird stories,” was doing historical research when the question came to her: “What was the earliest evidence of the hearts and centers of storytelling in the community? What was the social fabric, the churches, the schools, the people where stories arose?”

The “unsung heroes,” as Hudson calls them, were often teachers and librarians connecting with “rag-a-muffin street kids” and spreading storytelling. Hudson profiles pioneers like Mary Ann Wentroth, the Children’s Services Consultant for the Oklahoma Department of Libraries, who is profiled in the book, and Sky Shivers, cowboy poet and storyteller who has traveled worldwide in his storytelling cowboy boots.

There are past and present storytelling groups across the state and numerous events that showcase storytelling, which Hudson describes in the book. One of the largest festivals is the Territory Tellers’ annual June event called the Spirit of Oklahoma Storytelling Festival, which began in 2007 and was started by storytellers Bonnie Smith and Jeanette Harjo, who were president and vice-president of the organization at the time.

Hudson’s research was extensive, which the bibliography in the back of the book shows, and she enjoyed finding how storytelling was used in inventive ways. “One of the funnest things I found,” Hudson said, “was the use of a folktale to promote an adult business. A 1957 ad for an Oklahoma City night spot called ‘Little Red and the Big Wolf’ got my attention.”

The book has chapters on influences, groups and guilds, events, storytellers and pioneers. A section on the different stages of development that a storyteller goes through is also included. “People often don’t understand what a storyteller is,” Hudson said, “and this is my two-cents worth on that topic.”

Hudson said that her book is not intended as a comprehensive history of Oklahoma storytelling, but instead, she said, “I hope it becomes a launching pad for people to see storytelling history and the people behind the movement that set the stage for the modern tellers.”

“I hope someone will put together an exhaustive history, and I want to be the sparkplug that made that happen,” Hudson said.

Hudson’s book Stories Center Stage! Storytelling in Modern Oklahoma is available to purchase at whorlbooks.blogspot.com or by contacting marilynahudson@gmail.com.

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About the Author

Shaun Perkins

Shaun Perkins is a writer, teacher and poet and now a contributing writer for Red Dirt Report....

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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