“We All Have Stories to Share”: Grammy-Nominated Storyteller Visits the Northwest


by Greg Wright

Diane Ferlatte, the National Storytelling Network’s Circle of Excellence Award winner, will be a featured “teller” at this year’s PowellsWood Storytelling Festival.

The first day of the festival, which runs July 18-19 this year at PowellsWood in Federal Way, storytellers engage registered attendees with workshops designed to turn everyday people into tellers of their own stories.

The second day, it’s all telling, all the time at key locations throughout the 3-acre garden. This year’s tellers include Donald Davis, Angela Lloyd, Barbara McBride-Smith, Ed Stivender—and Diane Ferlatte.

I had the opportunity to chat the other day with Ferlatte, fresh from her appearance at the Sydney International Storytelling Conference in Australia.

I understand you were raised in Louisiana. That’s ripe storytelling country. Were you born there?

Grammy-nominted storyteller Diane Ferlatte is featured at the PowellsWood Storytelling Festival

Grammy-nominted storyteller Diane Ferlatte is featured at the PowellsWood Storytelling Festival this year

Diane Ferlatte: I was born in New Orleans and migrated with my parents and two brothers to Oakland, CA when I was nine years old.

Can you recall the first time you were captivated by oral storytelling?

DF: We used to joke that my father had a motor mouth. Both he and my grandparents could really spin yarns on the porch in Louisiana, but I was too young to really appreciate it at the time.

When did you become inspired to start telling stories yourself?

DF: After we adopted our second child, I discovered that he was a TV brain. I had been reading stories to his younger sister but he wasn’t interested. I had to find a way to get him to sit and listen instead of watching TV. So I not only read in a more dramatic way but soon began to tell stories instead of just reading to them. When I was asked to tell stories at a church function, I was hooked. The first professional teller who had a big impact on me was Jackie Torrence.

You spent some time in Georgia’s Sea Islands collecting stories. How did that come about?

DF: I was interested in the Gullah culture and wanted to collect some of their folktales. Problem was, on Sapelo Island’s Hog Hammock community which I visited, the primary storyteller was long in the tooth and couldn’t remember much. So I interviewed and spent time with many of the remaining inhabitants left in that small community whose families had been there for generations since slavery. As a consequence, I developed a show around their various personal stories.

Do stories generally come to you, or do you search them out?

DF: Some stories come to me through personal experiences or through friends, but I do research on historical stories and folktales.

Your scheduled workshop at the PowellsWood Festival this year is titled, “Bringing Stories to Life.” Why is it important for everyday people to learn how to “tell their story,” as opposed to simply passing along facts about who they are?

DF: It is first and foremost important that we talk with one another. Passing along facts is better than nothing, but when we share stories we get a much clearer and meaningful idea of each other. We also are able to relate in a more emotional way to the other person through their stories. In addition, stories are just more interesting.

So is it about more than just leaving a legacy of sorts? Is it also about the “how” of living out our own stories, day by day?

DF: Sometimes we think there isn’t anything interesting about us that we can share, but we all are interesting in different ways, and we all have stories to share.

I hope your experience at PowellsWood this year gives you more stories to tell!

DF: I hope so too, and thank you very much.

For complete Festival schedule information, visit powellswoodfestival.com

PowellsWood: A Northwest Garden
430 South Dash Point Road

Price $15 and up; children’s and family rates available

Online Ticketing at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/531089


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