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Reading Out Loud

The Art of Storytelling

By Nicholas S. Racheotes

They come in all cultures, colors, creeds, shapes, sizes, ages, and abilities. They preserve our past, predict our futures, buoy us, and bore us. They are the storytellers. Whether accompanied by Homer’s lyre, the kora and balafon of the African griot, or the harp of the blind bards of Ireland, their tales define us, and when their traditions are lost, we are the losers.

Without the Iliad and the Odyssey, would we have the literature that we have cherished for thousands of years? Whether hearing it from grandma on the porch, the preacher expounding a Psalm from the pulpit, a comic doing stand-up, or a rapper and Bruce Springsteen on a download, the story is the thing. We lean forward to catch every word. We pass it on if it’s a good one or brush it off as unrepeatable.

How sad is the disappearance of the rich Native American oral heritage. We have a few narrations concerning Coyote, that mischief maker, but where are those heroic epics from the Sioux, the Cheyenne, and so much else? What a threat has come to the Balkan and other traditions in the form of the dominant electronic media. Yet, storytelling never fades.

If you are, like I am, a pathological eavesdropper, every bar, restaurant, means of public transportation, and day on the beach is a veritable treasure chest of oral and aural fixations. There are tales of romance with toe-curling descriptions of lust and hole-by-hole narrations of golf games that are of far greater importance to the narrator than they could possibly be to any listener. Good gossip can put every family secret out in the marketplace. Have I forgotten to mention the lies of such magnitude that they would shame even Pinocchio at his prevaricating best?

Yet, storytelling never fades.

But, I need to close with a warning. When your son or daughter, niece or nephew comes running into the house with a breathless description of the dragons that inhabit the backyard, think before you crush them under the burden of reality. After all, they are in a sacred tradition. Besides, the tale-teller of childhood may be the National Book Award winner of tomorrow.

—V—


Nick Racheotes is a product of Boston public schools, Brandeis University, and Boston College, from which he holds a PhD in history. Since he retired from teaching at Framingham State University, Nick and his wife, Pat, divide their time between Boston, Cape Cod, and the Western world.



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