The Georgia Storytelling Festival is celebrating 10th Anniversary this year by spinning old yarns and weaving new magic with words

Written By: Judy Garrison

I held my hand out to shake the hand of Donald Davis, who had just left the stage to a standing ovation; as he put my hand in mine, I heard myself say, “What an honor. I stalk you everywhere you go.”With terrifying looks radiating from Davis and my husband, I attempted to withdraw my colossal foot from my mouth. Not exactly the first impression I wanted to make, but for sure, it would make for a good story.
Not a false statement, I began stalking—or should I respectfully say pursuing—storyteller Donald Davis after my first storytelling experience nearly a decade ago. For the life of me, I can’t remember the story he told, but I remember how he made me feel. The inflections of his voice coupled with his facial expressions inserted my story into his, confirming we all share the same sentiments, albeit different narratives. 
As the years passed, I followed storytellers everywhere, devouring stories and learning more about them, but more about myself. From North Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia, the stories and tellers changed me, especially those whose lives were shaped by Appalachia. The expressions of life—music, words, rhythms, laughter—enveloped every listener in the room, under the tent, or in the street.  

The Never-ending Story
The Georgia Storytelling Festival is celebrating 10 years of gathering the world’s best tellers with a spring birthday celebration and an open invitation. Co-directors Ruth Looper and Amanda Lawrence invite everyone to come and be surrounded by stories.
“I have always been in awe of the power of words,” explained Looper, English professor at Young Harris College. “I relish studying that power in poetry and prose with my students, but hearing a well-told story creates a different kind of enchantment because of the immediacy of the experience of verbal music that sings with meaning.” The brainchild of several faculty members in Humanities and Appalachian Studies at Young Harris College, collectively, they brought storytelling to North Georgia in 2013. “Our motto, ‘Claim Your Voice,’ sums up what makes a good storyteller: effective tellers have claimed their own voices and discovered the stories that they were meant to tell.”
The primary mission of the festival is education, but its reach is far greater. “Telling and listening enrich communication skills and can help younger generations learn how to put down the phone, close the laptop, and focus on the beauty of a story’s meanings and music,” explains Looper. 
As a non-profit entity staffed by volunteers, the festival returned to in-person programming last year; however, COVID-19 brought about a virtual component which they will offer for 2024 and 2025. 
“We have continued to expand the festivals’ enrichment mission by bringing top quality storytellers to perform and offer workshops,” said Looper. They also have established initiatives for outreach to veterans, caregivers and children as well as those who have experienced trauma and those with disabilities. The festival has morphed into a vital community resource. 

Hear ye, Hear ye!
Showcasing storytelling with an emphasis on traditional and contemporary Appalachian stories, the festival is scheduled for April 12 – 14, 2024 at The Ridges Resort on Lake Chatuge. Featured tellers include Michael Reno Harrell, Anne Rutherford, Nestor Gomez, Megan Hicks and Len Cabral. Tickets are currently on sale with early-bird specials available through Eventbrite. The Ridges Resort offers a room block discount for the festival. The event is free to teachers and their classes, low-income individuals and those with disabilities; senior citizen and veteran tickets are discounted. 
“We will celebrate with a party, anniversary cake, music, giveaways and much more,” shares Looper. “We’re particularly looking forward to showcasing a new quilt to mark the anniversary. As part of our first festival, we asked participants to write messages about the event on quilt squares and then stitched them to make a gorgeous testimony to the power of story. We have done the same thing to create a 10th anniversary quilt in preparation for this year’s festival.”
Local storyteller Kanute Rarey of Hayesville, North Carolina, describes the grip of storytelling like this: “I took my first storytelling workshop at John C. Campbell Folk School with Elizabeth Ellis in 2015. I describe the effect of her mind-blowing word-smithing and encouragement as ‘letting the canary out of the cage.’ Through story creation, it has broadened my appreciation of my past and my present world.” 
Want a taste of what the festival will bring? Join Rarey and Mountain Area Storytellers for Open Mic Night at the Corner Coffee and Wine Shop in Hayesville, North Carolina; they gather and share the third Friday of each month. And when you fall in love with storytelling—and you will—plan to attend the National Storytelling Festival at the International Storytelling Center in Jonesborough, Tennessee, October 4 – 6, 2024, when tellers take over this small Appalachian city. For three days, experience workshops, concerts and events that will have you telling this story to all your friends. For more information on the Georgia Mountain Storytelling Festival and to purchase tickets, visit

Photo by Len Garrison


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