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Telling the Stories of Jonesborough

When Jimmy Neil Smith, founder and president of the International Storytelling Center, created the idea for a storytelling festival, he said he wasn’t dreaming of a great festival.
“The first festival wasn’t born out of a love of storytelling,” said Smith of the 1973 event. “The first festival was born out of a love for our community.”
Last week, Smith announced plans for a program that will marry both of his loves — storytelling and Jonesborough.
‘Telling Jonesborough’s Stories,’ as the program is called, is a community-based program designed to celebrate what is special about Jonesborough and its people.
“This program has been in the back of my mind for a number of years. A couple of years ago we started talking more seriously about it and in January really got it going,” Smith said. “We are celebrating the community through the stories we live and the stories we tell.”
Leaders are hoping the program will inspire residents to discover and share their stories.
“We’re actively harvesting stories and then we will take those stories and craft them into things — dance, theater, sculpture,” Smith said. “We’re trying to achieve a high performance community, one that can exceed our expectations as a great place to live, to work and to raise our families.”
The program is being done through a partnership between the International Storytelling Center, the Town of Jonesborough and the Heritage Alliance.
Smith estimated the project will cost $100,000, of which some of the funding will come from the recent donation from James C. Martin in memory of his late wife, Mary B. Martin, and some will be funded through the Town.
The first Jonesborough stories to be told will be those of the African American community, Smith said. Those stories, which are already being collected, will be made into a play likely to be performed at the new McKinney Arts Center in Spring 2011.
Other individuals whose stories will be collected include former alderman Jimmy Rhein, who according to Smith, “played on the streets of Jonesborough as a boy;” Ann Mooneyham, who also grew up in Jonesborough.; and Sidney Smallwood, who “may be the oldest storyteller we have being interviewed at 94 years old,” Smith said.
“But the stories don’t have to be old,” Smith added. “We want to collect the stories of everyone.”
The program will include three core areas including a story exchange, where residents can share their stories in one-on-one interviews and story circles; story crafting, where participants can craft their stories through a wiki — an online, collaborative storehouse of Jonesborough’s stories; and a sharing through the arts, where Jonesborough’s stories will be told through a variety of artistic mediums.