I remember one of the things we loved about coming to Mayday, Ga. to visit Grandma and Grandpa was listening to them tell us stories about what life was like when our mom was growing up. We giggled along with our aunt when she told us she put a big old tobacco worm on my mom’s shoulder when they were girls working out in the tobacco fields. Mom didn’t find it as funny, but there you go. My aunt still has a mischievous grin at times and has always had a great sense of humor. She and Mom have lots of stories of their early life along the Alapaha River in Echols County just like Grandma did.
I’m old enough now to have stories of my own. I can tell them to my daughter but getting up in front of strangers is another thing entirely. That takes a special breed of person, a storyteller. A captivating storyteller can use the power of description to weave enough detail into their stories to make you feel like you are part of it. In other words, they don’t just tell you it was cold; they tell you how their breath frosted the air in front of them while a sliver of cold air slipped down the back of their jacket. Listening to a good storyteller is mesmerizing because they truly are artists. They take us on a journey to places unseen and give us a thirst for more. Whether she realizes it or not, Wanda Violet is one of these people.
I spoke with her recently about her passion for Madison County Florida Storytelling Tellabration, only intending to get an interview and write an article. Instead she drew me so completely in with her descriptions and stories that I will have to go to the event this year (see it on the South Georgia Today calendar this month) to experience it for myself.
As she tells it, about 5 years ago Wanda decided that she wanted to start telling stories. She ended up contacting a professional storyteller, Pat Nease from Panama City, Florida. Pat took her to the International Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee. Wanda described her wonder at seeing people sitting under these great big tents- all listening to stories; thousands and thousands of people, from every walk of life. She remembers walking from one huge tent to the next, hearing story after story and knew that she wanted to bring that wonder, that artistry and tradition to Madison County, Florida. Together with her husband James, she is doing exactly that by welcoming us all to 5th annual Madison County Florida Storytelling Tellabration.
What exactly is a Tellabration? As Wanda said, it’s a celebration of storytelling. Her website states that they are promoting the art and tradition of storytelling in the heart of North Florida. It starts at the Wally Davis Farm (5757 NE Rocky Ford Rd, Pinetta, FL 32350) at 10:00 am on Saturday, November 17, 2018. They will have professional storytellers, local adults telling stories; even students from local schools have been invited. At noon they have an open stage. People put their name in a hat and names are drawn. Those who get chosen have 5 minutes to tell a story. No judging, no critique or anything like that. Wanda says that at the end of the 5 minutes the participants are gently clapped off the stage and the next one begins.
When I asked her about the stories themselves she told me that some people might tell personal stories, while others spin tales based out of literature or history. Stories might be fantastical or silly or sad but all must be family friendly. Absolutely no stories about politics are allowed. Isn’t that a wonderful thing?
There is more to the event than just ordering chairs and a tent and getting the yards groomed. Wanda works tirelessly in the background for months beforehand visiting businesses, clubs and local sponsors raising awareness and promoting attendance. She goes around to the local schools to invite the students to write stories and join in the Tellabration, then goes back to those schools to work with the students on their stories and to encourage them. She clearly has a strong commitment to Madison County and her fellow Floridians but assured me that she would love for Valdosta and South Georgia to get involved as well!
Wanda and her husband James Glaser are co-producers. A storyteller himself, James is an artist that works with wood. They work together on much of the planning and duties involved with setting up and running such a large event. James does a lot of the behind-the-scenes paperwork, reports, accounting and organization. He oversees the logistics such as tent set up, venue location, etc.
Wanda explained that they really have three goals in mind:
1) To promote the art and tradition of storytelling by bringing in professional and local storytellers and by getting the children involved.
2) To do something good for Madison County.
3) To support and encourage students.
Is all of the hard work worth it? Let’s just say that afterward when the tent company comes and folds up the tent and takes the chairs, Wanda and James will already be looking forward to making the magic happen next year.