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  • Writer's pictureBobby Norfolk

MO-TELL History: MO-TELL Memories

by Bobby Norfolk

I was a National Park Service ranger at the Gateway Arch and Old Court House in 1976. In 1979 Ron Turner and Lynn Rubright decided to have a storytelling festival “coincidentally” at my work site. I did not seek storytelling—it sought me!

I knew nothing about storytelling being an ancient art form until people like Sue Hinkel, Annette Harrison, Perrin Stifel, Marilyn Kinsella, Ruthilde Kronberg, Leigh McGee, Irene Eveland, Roger Rose, Janet (January) Kiefer, Nan Kammann, and others showed me how to work with their organization, called MO-TELL, to find, learn, and perform STORY!

I had been involved in live theater with the Black Repertory Company and stand-upcomedy at the Funny Bone Comedy Club, but knew nothing about the power of story. MO-TELL members showed me the difference between fairy tales, folktales, myths, legends, tall tales, poetry, prose, personal stories, and sagas.

Storytelling sent me to the library and bookstores to hone and craft my skill sets so that I would feel comfortable with what seemed to be so easy for these other MO-TELL members. I was a willing student, and went on a regular basis to meetings at Perrin’s home. What a treat to sit and listen to these people discuss story! Then there was the added treat when they had an olio (not to be confused with margarine)! I learned that an olio was a round robin of tellers sharing their work. Gateway and Riverwind guilds came later, but it is the memory of MO-TELL that resonated with me the most. I asked the chief ranger at the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (“the Arch”) if I could have Mondays and Tuesdays off, to practice stories in schools, and then work for him Wednesdays through Sundays. To my delight, he agreed!

In early 1987 I resigned from the National Park Service and took on professional storytelling full time. The rest, as they say, is “His-Story”!

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