Library's storytelling fest takes place this weekend
FARMINGTON — The annual Four Corners Storytelling Festival presented by the Farmington Public Library may not be as big as many similar events around the country. But the festival has survived, even thrived, for more than 15 years because library officials have been careful not to let it become financially overextended and because it seems to be a natural fit for many of the people who call this area home.
“It’s very old school — in most cultures, storytelling is the way culture is passed on,” Farmington Public Library Director Karen McPheeters said last week. “In New Mexico, it’s very much a part of the culture here.”
That’s especially true of the state’s Native and Hispanic populations, which continue to convey much of their history from generation to generation orally. But McPheeters said storytelling is a skill that has practical applications for people from all walks of life, particularly for students or those in the media who routinely convey information to others.
“It’s all storytelling,” she said. “How do you make something you’re writing worth reading?”
This year’s festival takes place Friday, Oct. 14, and Saturday, Oct. 15, at the library and at the Totah Theater. That’s a change from last year’s event, which was partly based at the River Reach Terrace at Berg Park. McPheeters said the library was able to save money by staging part of the festival on its own grounds this year, and that kind of approach has helped it remain viable after more than a decade and a half.
Organizers of many other festivals around the country can’t say the same. Before the Four Corners festival was launched, McPheeters said she visited several others around the country to help determine what works and what doesn’t at such events. Not all those festivals have survived, she said.
“We’ve really ensured ours keeps going,” she said. “There have been several that have come up and gone away. We really struggled with budget cuts back in 2008 and 2009, and we had to make it smaller. But we didn’t want to eliminate it, because we thought if we didn’t do it (one year), we’d probably never do it again. So we’ve had to make it fit in our budget.”
The first day of this year’s festival will focus on workshops, which will be led by professional storytellers Eldrena Douma and Beth Horner. Douma is a Native storyteller from Texas with a calming style, McPheeters said, while Horner has appeared at the Four Corners festival several times, becoming well known to local audiences, and is a veteran of the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tenn.
Douma will present a workshop on “Imagineering: Creating Stories Quickly,” while Horner’s workshop will focus on “Energizing Your Stories.” Those interested in participating can register online at the library’s website.
Storytelling sessions featuring Douma, Horner and the other two featured tellers, Nancy Donoval and Andy Offut Irwin, are planned that evening at the Totah Theater. Irwin also has performed here before, and McPheeters described him as “a character and a half. I don’t even know how to explain him.”
Donoval, on the other hand, is new to the festival and employs a different style from the others.
“I think she just deals with some more difficult issues,” McPheeters said. “She does a lot of work dealing with diversity and more difficult subject ideas.”
The festival continues the next day at the theater with a story swap and brunch before the four professional tellers perform during afternoon and evening sessions. Youth storytellers Bailey Perkins, Bria Cohen, Hannah Wiebe and Samantha DeWees also will perform during the event.
McPheeters doesn’t just oversee the festival — she’s also a big fan of the art form. And she has definite ideas about what she enjoys most.
“For me, my personal preference is I like a balance between the bitter and the sweet,” she said. “I love those stories that really speak to my heart, that have you crying one moment and laughing the next moment.”
But she also loves the festival because it provides her institution with an opportunity to reach out to the community.
“Our very first exposure with children is going to be storytelling,” she said, explaining that she views storytelling as a gateway to literacy.
“There’s something very fundamental about it,” she said.
McPheeters emphasized the festival is a family event, not something just for children.
“Inevitably, what I hear from people who come the first time is, ‘I didn’t know it would be that good,’” she said. “It makes them think of their own family stories, and that tells me it really does speak to us.”
She believes the storytelling workshops will be particularly valuable to participants, pointing out that many adults say their biggest societal fear is speaking in public. That’s a phobia that easily can be overcome, McPheeters said.
“I’ve had 8-year-olds get up and tell a story in front of 1,000 people and not blink an eye,” she said.
Mike Easterling is the A&E editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.
If you go
What: Four Corners Storytelling Festival
When: All day Friday, Oct. 14, and Saturday, Oct. 15, at the Farmington Public Library, 2101 Farmington Ave., and the Totah Theater, 315 W. Main St. in Farmington
For more information: Visit infoway.org or call 505-599-1270