Live at Sharing the Fire (2016)
My Jonesborough Experience (2009)
Applying to Jonesborough is relatively straightforward: complete the application form and submit it with promotional materials and recordings. Then, wait and hope for the best.
The tough part: you need a substantial body of material that is unique and which you know inside out, back to front, forwards and backwards. This is no time to become ruffled, which is easy to do when you are performing for nearly two thousand people.
That having been said, performing at Jonesborough is an incredibly magical experience. My first set, I shared with none other than Kathryn Windham. What an honor and a privilege. The tent was filled to capacity and beyond. I told a story called “Sundays” and - this is how good Kathryn is - in her quiet, unassuming manner, she seamlessly picked up the theme and followed my story with the delightfully funny details of her Sundays as a child in Selma, Alabama. Not only that but, as she told, she artfully referred to details from my story, weaving them effortlessly into hers. A truly magnificent storyteller!
Next I shared the stage with Barbara McBride Smith. Once again the tent was filled to capacity. I told a story about my grandfather and the adventures I shared with him when he came to live with us. Barbara McBride Smith also told a personal which blew me away. It was funny and poignant and reverberated with the truth of her experiences. I do not know whether she was planning to tell this particular story at this particular time, but once again, it was a neat follow-up to mine.
Finally, I shared the stage with Bill Harley (I know! No pressure there!). I told “The Wicket Gate,” a story about my struggles learning to read - a funny and touching story. It turned out to be the perfect foil for Bill’s, which was a rollicking story about friendship between a group of boys and what happens when girls enter the scene. As you can imagine, the audience was in stitches.
It is easy to feel intimidated by these truly talented storytellers; it is easy to feel daunted and to second guess your own material – and you must not. You must know deep down that your material is good – it is not like Kathryn’s or Barbara’s or Bill’s – it is very much your own and it is unique.
On a last note, the audience in Jonesborough is truly supportive and responsive. For my hour slot, I was expecting a small crowd since I was up against some heavy hitters – and you are always up against heavy hitters. I was thrilled to see that my tent was full! A truly wonderful feeling! Of course, there is nothing quite like walking down Main Street and having people yell out that they loved your stories.
On returning to my eighth grade classroom, I suggested that my students might give me a round of applause at the end of each class – not surprisingly, no one obliged!
P.S. My first appearance in Jonesborough at the Exchange Place was twenty years ago. Maybe getting there is not an overnight affair!