The Florida Public Library (FPL) will sponsor its first Black Dirt Storytelling Festival on Sat., Sept. 22 at 2 p.m. In addition to marking the first day of autumn, the festival will celebrate Great American Reads and the Library’s 60th Anniversary. Seven storytellers from New York and New Jersey will be featured in the afternoon program at the Seward Senior Center, located at 3 Cohen Cir. in Florida.
The Library has been the regional home of storytelling since the formation of the Black Dirt Storytelling Guild in 2001. The Guild meets monthly and has produced special events and outreach programs to schools, libraries, camps, Scouts, museums, and other agencies over the years. Members hope that the Festival can grow into a well-attended annual event.
Several storytellers who are familiar to local audiences will be making return appearances. Seanchai Jim Hawkins will share Irish stories and songs to kick off the festival. Hawkins, a retired English teacher from Baldwin, Long Island, specializes in folktales, myths and personal stories of growing up in Ireland and the Irish community of New York City.
Lorraine Hartin-Gelardi is an author and storyteller from Beacon whose bold expressive style is a favorite with audiences. She mixes folktales with true stories of growing up on the Canadian border. She has partnered with educators to bring storytelling into the elementary curriculum and is the author of Wisdom in the Telling: Finding Inspiration and Grace in Traditional Folktales and Myths Retold. Along with Muriel Horowitz, she is a co-founder of the Dutchess Interfaith Story Circle, which shares stories in many houses of worship.
Horowitz, also a featured teller at the festival, is a retired teacher from Poughkeepsie, NY and a Board member of Northeast Storytelling (NEST). She has visited Florida several times to share stories from her Jewish heritage for the library’s annual Holocaust Memorial Day. She facilitates workshops on storytelling skills to enhance literacy learning and a more peaceful world.
Christie Keegan, of Saratoga Springs, NY, is new to Florida and brings her almost 30 years’ experience to bear as a teller of personal stories in her engaging, intense, and dynamic style. Although her tales are often disguised as folk or fairy tales, and just as often bring listeners to laughter and tears, Keegan’s aim is to illustrate how little our differences matter compared to how much we have in common.
Ken Karnas, of Wantage, NJ, credits storytelling as an essential skill to surviving and enjoying his 42 brief years as an elementary and middle school teacher in Sussex County, NJ. He will entertain with a true, but little-known story from American history. Ken serves on the Board of the New Jersey Storytelling Network. He also loves to tell stories about his early days in Bloomfield, NJ where his Polish family ran a small grocery store.
The festival’s offerings will be rounded out by two very familiar faces to local fans of storytelling. Black Dirt Storytelling Guild founding members Eileen Stelljes and Madelyn Folino will be anchoring the afternoon show. They’ve been known to tell stories together as “The Library Goddesses.”
Stelljes, a lifelong resident of Orange Lake, NY, will share a story based on her latest dive into Orange County history. With many years as a Revolutionary War re-enactor as both a patriot and a Hessian, and with deep family roots along the Hudson River, she has a particular interest in the history and people of the Hudson Valley.
Folino has been director of the FPL for 20 years and a storyteller for 30, getting her start doing weekly programs at the Pine Island Elementary School in the 1980s. She loves and tells all kind of stories, especially creation myths, and often tells tales of her own mythic childhood growing up in Cornwall, NY in the 1950s and 1960s, as well as humorous stories from many traditions. Her greatest pleasure is inspiring other people to tell their own weird, wacky, and wonderful family stories.
At the festival, hand-outs will be distributed on the American Library Association and the Public Broadcasting System’s joint program, Great American Reads. The festival’s storytellers will be tying their oral presentations into some of the hundred books identified by Americans as their best-loved. Whether you are a reader of literary or popular novels or a devotee of spoken word performances or just relish a good yarn expertly told, there will be lots to enjoy during the Black Dirt Storytelling Festival’s inaugural event. Come help us celebrate storytelling in all its forms on the autumnal equinox, a day marked in many ways in many cultures around the world and now, by local storytelling.
Attentive listeners from ages five to 105 are invited to attend. The program is not suitable for preschoolers. Refreshments will be available during the intermission, courtesy of FPL’s Tween Club and the Friends of the FPL. Admission to the afternoon of stories is free, but seating is limited and advance registration is strongly encouraged. To register call the Library at 651-7659 or visit www.floridapubliclibrary.org.