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  • Writer's pictureDeb Swanegan

MO-TELL Member of the Month: Deb Swanegan

I was born in Triplett, MO, a very small town in Chariton County, Missouri. Triplett is so small that if you drive too fast on the highway, you will totally miss seeing it! My grandmother delivered me, in the corner of her kitchen, and until her death, she was one of my most favorite people, and a source of some of the best stories ever! As a child, I was called Bertha Jean by my elders; my myriad cousins called me Tootsie.... but my REAL name (at least today!) is Deborah Agee Swanegan. As a child my name meant “the fugitive bumblebee”, and my current name translates as the “bumblebee swine keeper”! Most times, I respond to Deb. My great-grandfather, Auther Curren, was a grandson of a slave and on his sixty-sixth birthday, decided I should be the keeper of the family history, and the family storyteller.

So, on the misty dawn morning when I was born, he gifted me with my African name, Axisi (“sky child” in the Hausa language) and began teaching me the oral tradition that our families revere. I began, very slowly, to learn stories histories, and our genealogy. He was my first, and most important storytelling teacher. I absolutely love telling spooky, scary ghost tales reputed to be true! My grandmother told me ghost stories that made my “gollywobbles” have goosebumps! I also tell stories that require unanticipated audience participation; most of the participants have no idea they are my story participants, but they always have a good time! I like telling personal stories of growing up, interacting with family and cousins, and how to live Life gracefully and well.

I am the only child of Earl and Neva Agee. My father was a career Air Force man, and was stationed in Europe, North Africa and the United States. Being raised in those places was a wonderful experience! I am married to Odie Swanegan, Sr., and we will celebrate our fiftieth wedding anniversary this year. We have three children. LeeAnn, our daughter, lives in Germantown, Maryland with husband Lou, and their three sons: Gabriel, Javen and Asher. Odie Jr., our oldest twin son, lives in Atlanta, Georgia with daughters Ava and Olivia. Jared, our youngest twin son, lives in Bloomington, Minnesota with his wonderful wife, Nicole, and his daughters: Norah, Emerie, and Josie. Being a NaNa is one of my favorite things!!

I have served as a K-12, and college classroom Art educator for thirty-five years, as a Missouri Commissioner for Community Service, a National Youth Director for the National Association of Black Storytellers, and have been a board member on several community and national service organizations. I speak German, and Latin.... I think I would enjoy learning to speak Hausa someday. I am currently retired (YAY!!), but still teach Arts and Crafts to disabled adults in the city of Columbia part-time.

As a storyteller, I have always told my students, and study groups that each of us is a story, and we are the main character. I particularly try to encourage the elders to tell their families their stories of themselves, the culture/society that nurtured them and the lessons learned in their life journeys. Storytelling can be entertainment, but it is infinitely more powerful when used to weave a tapestry of histories, education, beliefs, interactions, and experiences by members of different generations, cultures and societies. I also love telling cooking stories with others as we cook food together, sharing stories of how food is grown, gathered, prepared and eaten.... yum!

I don’t particularly like how ZOOM performance/discussions/work: I really enjoy the experience of being in-person. When telling, discussing or being in a dramatic performance, I like to “read” my audience and interact with them whenever possible! I think ZOOM is a very valuable communication tool that has kept us connected, communicating, and making sure we are safely doing well during the past pandemic, and if we can’t be in the same place, at the same time, ZOOM suffices.... but I like in- person best.

As a MO-TELL member, I would like to continue sharing stories, learning from other tellers, and encouraging our youth to start telling stories while encouraging our elders to tell their stories. I would like to be able to tell stories in all kinds of venues (would you believe I once told stories in a hot air balloon?), and to tell stories to every person who will listen. Every time we are together, I learn something else about storytelling, and I am just so grateful that our fellow storytellers are willing to share their stories, their music, lives and experiences with us! MO-TELL tellers are very welcoming, and want to hear stories, and enjoy all the creative gifts we possess.

How can MO-TELL help you become a better storyteller?

See above about how MO-TELL can make me a better storyteller...maybe I can find someone to teach me how to tell classic fairy stories.... would also love to do a

“storytelling cooking”gathering.......

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