Have you ever wondered how a storyteller decides what story to tell, when to tell it, or how to tell it? What you see on the stage is akin to the visible tip of an iceberg. If you are at all curious about the underlying portions of the storytelling art, have I written a book for you — Kentucky Folktales: Revealing Stories, Truths, and Outright Lies. From the title alone you wouldn’t know, but the book is more than a collection of stories. Yes, there are stories – twenty-six of them – written down as close to how I tell them as writing allows. Each story is also followed by a commentary that includes not only the source of the story but an essay that delves into the storytelling art. Here’s what others have said about this unusual folktale collection:
“This book functions on two levels…great stories which will be fun for the casual reader…along with in depth notes showing how a contemporary storyteller…Mary Hamilton…shapes a tale for telling. Lovers of story will find a lot to delight them in this book. And Kentucky story lovers will just want to grab it and take it home with them to keep!”
— Dr. Margaret Read MacDonald, author of Ten Traditional Tellers
“Mary Hamilton has given us not only a glorious collection of dazzling tales, spooky, tall, international, regional, historical, personal, and family, but also an inspiring model of how a truly professional storyteller works.”
— Jo Radner, “Book Notes” Storytelling Magazine, June/July 2012
Kentucky Folktales received an Anne Izard Storytellers’ Choice Award and was also named a Storytelling World Winner in the Storytelling Collections category.
Essay topics addressed in the commentaries include:
• how audience responses shape tellings
• how and why telling a personal experience story to strangers requires a different telling from sharing the same experience with friends or family
• what a teller learns when the teller does not approach stories as words to be memorized
• how the writing of a tale differs from telling it
• what sort of research a teller might conduct to retell a folktale
• what makes a story a Kentucky folktale, or an Indiana folktale, or a folktale from any other place or people
Within the commentaries on five of the twenty-six stories, you’ll find archival texts so you can compare the story as I first encountered it with the story as I retell it. You may end up agreeing or disagreeing with my artistic decisions.
Following “The Gingerbread Boy” a creepy scary tale (not the “Run, run fast as you can…” tale you may recall from childhood, although running is not a bad idea for the main character), you’ll find a draft of a retelling by Chicago area storyteller Linda Gorham, who was inspired to retell it her way after encountering my retelling. Through this, you’ll have a peek into how folktales spread among contemporary storytellers.
Leonard Roberts, a Kentucky folklorist, collected several versions of two of the tales, so I created charts to show you the differences between ten versions of “Little Ripen Pear” and eight versions of “The Enormous Bear” from the Leonard Roberts Collection, Southern Appalachian Archives, Berea College.
A memory — I remember that when I was in first grade, an older girl named Anna Jo Hinton taught me how to run into the jump rope — became the story “Jump Rope Kingdom.” Find out how memory became story in the book. To hear that story now, visit: http://www.youtube.com/user/MaryHamiltonStory
In addition to “Jump Rope Kingdom” the book includes four more Hamilton family stories. Yes, family tales are indeed a form of folklore. Your family no doubt has tales too. You’ll also find seven haunting tales arranged from slightly spooky to truly terrifying with a bit of comic relief in the final selection. The outright lies mentioned in the title applies, mainly, to the tall tale section of six stories including “Some Dog” – an epic tall tale featuring my brothers, our family farm, and one truly amazing dog. A section titled “More Kentucky Folktales” includes a formula tale, a catch tale, a couple of realistic stories, and a fairy tale. In “Beyond Kentucky Folktales” you’ll find three tales not yet collected in Kentucky by any story collector, and yet, if I keep on telling them and my listeners retell them, someday a collector of oral tales may indeed encounter them.
My book is available from the publisher, University Press of Kentucky, in hardcover and electronic versions http://www.kentuckypress.com/live/title_detail.php?titleid=2627. Hardcover only is available through my website www.maryhamilton.info. An audio version is available from the Kentucky Talking Book Library accessible to all who use the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped http://nlscatalog.loc.gov/.