I grew up hearing stories from both parents and telling stories to my younger sister and brothers. As the eldest of five, I did a lot of baby-sitting! During high school I discovered the fascination of folklore. I was hunting new stories to tell my youngest brothers, but fell in love with folktales for their own sake.
While majoring in biology, I also took college courses to pursue my folklore/storytelling interests: psychology, sociology, world literature, modern and pre-classical dance. Folktales remained a hobby during graduate school and a career of college teaching and research. When my own children entered school, I volunteered to tell stories to their classes. Thus started my new profession of performing stories for groups outside the family.
Since 1982 I have worked with classroom teachers to make room in their busy schedules for storytelling. We discovered its unique power to entrance students into: reading on their own, retelling in their own words, creative writing, art projects, and other curriculum areas. The folktales painlessly convey information and open doors to the understanding of other cultures. Most striking, in the teachers' view, is the enhancement of students' listening skills and attention.
I love to tell stories to adults. You never outgrow your need for stories! In fact, very few of the stories I use (even with school kids) are "children's" stories. Most of them come from the ancient oral tradition which developed stories for listeners of all ages.
The tales in my repertory come from Africa and Asia, Europe, and North and South America. I have a special collection of folktales from Japan, learned during residencies there and on American tours with my Japanese colleague, Hiroko Fujita. Our work on both sides of the Pacific won the National Storytelling Network's International StoryBridge award in 2003. I have edited several collections of her rare traditional folktales (see Publications).
I tell a few original and family tales and some by modern authors, including a little science fiction. I am continually developing new tales and songs. Since picking up the Appalachian autoharp to provide a musical change of pace in long shows, I've been writing original songs and inserting music into the stories themselves.
My stories run from forty-five seconds to forty-five minutes. Most are five to ten minutes in length. I seldom use props, puppets, or pictures: the audience paints their own visual images in their own minds. When I add touches of gesture, mime, character voice, dance movement, or sound effects, it is to evoke images without dictating them. Listeners are my partners in creation.
People tell me that listening to a storyteller is different from any other entertainment medium. It is an aural and visual experience involving interaction with the performer. But the most unique aspect is the active involvement of the listeners in creating the story in their own imaginations. People listen with an intensity I have rarely seen under other conditions. Each person goes away with a personal version of the story, whose creation has been a shared accomplishment.
PERSONAL DATA: I live in Bartlesville, OK, with my husband Gordon. Our children are grown. When I am not traveling to perform at festivals, to teach the art of storytelling, or to serve as an artist-in-residence in schools, I write professional articles, songs, and English retellings of Japanese tales.
You can also see Fran's résumé.