MY ART STORY by

Saundra G. Kelley

Jonesborough
Tennessee

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Close up of a woman's expressive face in the middle of storytelling

Saundra G. Kelley in performance with the Jonesborough Storytellers Guild. Photo courtesy of artist

Growing up in Florida's capital city, Tallahassee, I was surrounded by the arts and became a performer. It was, however, when I first attended the International Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee, that something lit a fire in me that has never diminished. Rounding the corner on Boone Street and Main, I was staggered by the sound of the human voice wafting in the air from multiple tents filled with storytellers and story lovers of all kinds. It was then and there that in 2004, I determined my future—to become an oral tradition storyteller. Two years later I was enrolled in East Tennessee State University's storytelling program. Graduating in 2007 into a recession sent me reeling, but I didn't give up. Since then, I've recorded one CD, had three books published, and performed on many, many stages for all kinds of groups. Oral tradition encompasses a realm of performance that incorporates many art disciplines, and it demands the heart and soul of one committed to it.

It is my suspicion that without the NEA keeping the arts alive and afloat, many of us would have gone belly-up by now. Instead, we have prospered in some instances, and in others, expanded our gifts as I have done. Now immediate past-president of the prestigious Jonesborough Storytellers Guild, I have been privileged to lead, teach and share my love of the thing that makes us human—storytelling.