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How the story goes - and grows

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 30, 2009 - Once upon a time, a long time ago, (well, 30 years ago, anyway,) a band of tellers gathered under a towering silver arch. Thousands of people gathered to listen.

The tellers told tales of the West, of pioneers and great adventures.

But there was one story they didn't tell, one they couldn't quite imagine then, about how, in their own version of happily ever after, they'd continue meeting every year, telling stories to more and more people.

In the 30 years since the first St. Louis Storytelling Festival, they've spread around the city, the county and St. Charles County, added tellers and listeners, all gathering for several days each spring to preserve and share the art and craft of storytelling.

This year, on Wednesday, April 29, the 30th Annual Storytelling Festival begins. More than 40 storytellers will tell stories at about 35 venues, with more than 20,000 people expected to listen in. That includes students, adults and families.

"Storytelling is for everyone," says Becky Walstrom, the festival's director.

And it will be everywhere. At places including the Missouri History Museum, area libraries and churches, the Lemp Mansion and the Missouri Botanical Garden, you'll find storytelling featuring a variety of themes, including diversity and culture.

"We really focus on diversity," Walstrom says.

Tellers are both national and regional, including Kenya Ajanaku, who tells stories of African folklore, Kevin Locke, a Native American hoop dancer, and St. Louis resident Lynn Rubright, who co-founded the festival 30 years ago. Back then, she drove home from a national storytelling festival and dreamt of starting one here.

"We just wanted to share a love of storytelling in all its variety," she says.

And she'll continue doing that with a workshop during the festival about how storytelling enhances literacy and a storytelling course in June.

All performances are free.

Whether you're able to listen in to one or many tales, expect to disconnect from that iPhone, unplug from technology and connect with an art that's ancient but still being passed from ear to ear.

"You sit and you watch television and look at the computer," Walstrom says, "There isn't the connection that you get through storytelling."

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