Stories provide a link through generations

By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Willimantic - posted Wed., Nov. 30, 2011
Mansfield Hollow resident Charlie Prewitt tells a pre-Civil War story about his great grandmother, passed down to him by his uncle, at the VoiceMail event at the Willimantic Brewing Company on Nov. 28. Photos by Melanie Savage.
Mansfield Hollow resident Charlie Prewitt tells a pre-Civil War story about his great grandmother, passed down to him by his uncle, at the VoiceMail event at the Willimantic Brewing Company on Nov. 28. Photos by Melanie Savage.

When Charlie Prewitt was a child, a good story was a primary source of entertainment. “My great-grandma and great-grandpa lived on a farm in Kentucky,” said Prewitt. “It was quite remote. Telling stories was a Sunday afternoon event.”

Prewitt told one of those stories, passed down to him through his uncle, at the November VoiceMail meeting at the Willimantic Brewing Company on Nov. 28.

“This is the fourth time we’ve held VoiceMail,” said event organizer Carolyn Stearns. “It started as a way to provide a venue for storytellers, and also to raise awareness regarding what performance storytelling is all about.” The event showcases a different storyteller every month, preceded by an open mike forum.

“My uncle had lots of stories and he loved to tell them,” said Prewitt, eschewing the microphone in favor of a more intimate setup. Prewitt, a Mansfield Hollow resident who turned 93 this year, told a true story about his Grandma Perry. “My great-grandmother was quite a woman,” said Prewitt. “She was married before the Civil War, and she outlived two husbands and two children.” Prewitt told the story of how his grandmother sheltered a neighbor’s slave who had traveled off of his owner’s property without permission. When a bounty hunter shows up looking for the errant slave, Grandma Perry chases him off with a shotgun. Later, the bounty hunter is lynched for his actions. “It’s the only time I’ve ever heard of a white man being lynched for threatening a slave and a mistress,” said Prewitt.

The featured storyteller at the VoiceMail event was Karen Chace from Freetown, Mass. “My first love is folk tales and fairy tales,” said Chace, introducing stories from Portugal, China, Massachusetts and other areas.

According to Stearns, storytelling began with cave people. “It was the primary source of news and events,” she said. “Psychological testing has shown that our brains are hard-wired to learn from an oral narrative.” Storytelling held equal standing with other art forms for centuries, according to Stearns. “They were pretty much on equal footing until technology stepped in,” she said.

There are currently festivals for live storytelling in every state in the country, “and in almost every country around the world,” said Stearns. The Connecticut Storytelling Festival, sponsored by the Connecticut Storytelling Center in New London, is scheduled for the last weekend of April. “We changed it from three days to one day,” said Stearns. Instead of limiting the event to the New London location, the group decided to take some of their stories on the road. “We wanted to reach a larger audience, so we’re taking the stories to them, instead of having them come to us,” said Stearns.

In conjunction with VoiceMail, Stearns is facilitating Campus Slammer, a program that sponsors story slams at local campuses. Similarly, Chace is involved in a project in Massachusetts that gets elementary school students involved with storytelling. “Stories are really best in the live format,” said Stearns.

The next VoiceMail event, scheduled for Dec. 26, at 7 p.m. at WilliBrew, will feature Stearns with her epic “Christmas Story.” Written by Stearns herself, “It’s a new classic story,” she said. Check out VoiceMail on Facebook for details, and for upcoming event information.

For more information about the Connecticut Story Center, see www.connstorycenter.org. Chace’s website at www.storybug.net features links to hundreds of stories from around the world. “It’s really a terrific resource,” said Stearns.


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