One day my daughter showed me a newspaper item. "Dad, there's a storytelling festival going on at the Arch. You're a storyteller. You should check it out." I didn't know I was a storyteller, but I went to the Arch for the Third Annual St. Louis Storytelling Festival. There I walked through a magic looking glass and found a whole new and strange world! I was a middle-aged father of six adult and near-adult children, just adjusting to the idea of being a grandfather.
For half my life I had been a research engineer at Monsanto, with my creativity focused on manufacturing better detergent chemicals by the ton. My experience with stories was in reading books to my children and teaching Sunday School classes.I was immediately enthralled with storytelling. Sylvia Duncan and Irene Eveland drew me into Gateway Storytellers dinners at the old Salad Bowl. I signed up for classes at Meramac Community College. When I was looking for places to practice, Leigh McGee invited me to join her in volunteer telling for the Special School District.
I had a lot to learn. I was proud of my ability to memorize and recite long poems and portions of text. I had to learn to put that skill aside and tell the story in my own voice. Somebody said, "Roger, you need to go to Jonesborough." I said, "What's Jonesborough?" I really didn't know about the National Storytelling Festival. "Sue and John Hinkel are driving an RV and taking passengers." So, I called Sue and got on the bus. In Jonesborough, I realized I had forgotten to make a motel reservation! Luckily, I was able to score a room at the old 11-E Motel. It was a crummy room, but I didn't care. I was overdosing on storytelling.
Storytelling became my passion. I joined NAPPS and went to the National Festival every year. I attended the NAPPS Summer Conferences at Washington Academy -- a wonderful way to get to know storytellers from all over. I got involved with storytelling events wherever I could -- Jim May's Illinois Festival, Mike Anderson and Dan Keding's Clayville programs, the Louisville Festival (where I was featured as a "New Teller" one year. I even got to a "Sharing the Fire" conference in New England.
At home, I was active in Gateway Storytellers and edited their printed newsletter "The Grapevine" for many years. I was a member of Riverwinds Storytellers and took part in their events. I volunteered for the St. Louis Storytelling Festival, was a regional teller for 20 years (featured in 1994), and was a member of the Festival Planning Committee for several years. I became a member of MoTell, participated in their workshops and in the Missouri River Storytelling Festival in St. Charles. I never made the leap to being a full-time professional storyteller. This was partly because I always had another source of income and partly because I was never effective in marketing myself. (I hate marketing!)
I have focused much of my storytelling on literary stories and the balance between staying true to the written story and the craft of adapting the story to the oral medium. This led to my involvement in the issues of copyright and getting permission -- issues which have diverted many tellers away from using literary material. I also work with traditional folklore, usually by adapting, modifying, or "fracturing" the fairy tale. I have written some original stories. My version of "Sir Gawain and the Loathly Lady" was published in the NSN Storytelling magazine in 2016.
Like many St. Louis tellers, I owe a lot to Lynn Rubright, Ron Adams, and Steve Otto. On the national level, I have learned from Chuck Larkin, Michael Parent, Donald Davis, Elizabeth Ellis, and many others, too numerous to list.
It's hard to choose a favorite story from my repertoire, but if pressed, I would choose my "cat" story, "Just Good Friends," adapted from a Jeffrey Archer short story.
Oh, about that walking stick. My father made it from the woody stem of a saguaro cactus. I carried it first as a prop, then as something to make people remember me, and finally as a talisman. Chuck Larkin taught me to either weave the stick into the story or put it down.