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Folklife Festival 2003 > Appalachia> Performers > Storytellers
When settlers came to the Appalachian Mountains in the 18th century, mostly from the British Isles and Germany, a heritage of storytelling came with them. With printed materials scarce and schools few in the mountains until the early 20th century, oral traditions flourished-richly metaphorical speech, riddles, tall tales, ghost stories, and wonder stories.

Most traditional stories in Appalachia feature an unlikely hero or heroine who overcomes fantastic obstacles on the way to success by using wit rather than strength or force. A cycle of stories called the Jack Tales, for example, tell the adventures of Jack, a humble boy who can outwit the most challenging opponents. The telling of the story likewise reveals the storyteller's wit to the audience. Cleverness with words is highly prized in Appalachian culture, and so are good storytellers.

Storytelling has been so important in Appalachia that the region is home to the National Storytelling Festival each October and to a multi-million-dollar, state-of-the-art International Storytelling Center in Jonesborough, Tennessee. While much of the storytelling that receives attention in the region today is performed by professional or revivalist storytellers, when family or friends in the region gather, funny and poignant stories still fill the air.

If all the men were put into one man, what a great man that would be.
And if all the trees were put into one tree, what a great tree that would be.
And if all the poleaxes were put into one axe, what a great axe that would be.
And if all the seas were put into one sea, what a great sea that would be.
And if that great man cut down that great tree with that great axe,
and it landed in that great sea, what a great splash that would be!

— A traditional piece told by Ray Hicks

Coming to the festival...


Lloyd Arneach, Asheville, North Carolina

—Lloyd Arneach is a member of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Tribe. His stories include old stories of the Cherokee and contemporary tales from other Indian tribes.

Bonnie Collins, Fairmont, West Virginia

—Bonnie Collins, from Doddridge County, West Virginia, is one of the state's most beloved storytellers. Recognized for her humor, Collins has been involved and acted as a judge in the state's liar's contest. She was awarded the 1991 Vandalia Award, West Virginia's top folklife award.
Orville Hicks, Boone, North Carolina
—A member of the well-known Hicks storytelling family, Orville Hicks is one of the fine tellers of "Jack Tales" and carries on the tradition of such great storytellers as Ray and Stanley Hicks.
Bil Lepp, South Charleston, West Virginia
—Bil Lepp is a side-splittingly funny man. He was the winner of the West Virginia liar's contest so often that he was made the emcee. Hear Bil's stories of his adventures with his pal, Buck Dog.
Frank Proffitt, Jr., Todd, North Carolina
—Frank Proffitt, Jr., is a member of the storytelling Hicks family and is known for his "Jack Tales." His father Frank Proffitt was also a well-known mountain musician and the person from whom the well-known song "Tom Dooley" was first collected.

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