Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - 15

OUR BLUE RIDGE TOWNS

SAVING THE WORLD THROUGH STORY

K

iran Singh Sirah came to Jonesborough in 2013, and in his six years
as president of the International Storytelling Center, he's radically
expanded and brought international recognition to the work of ISC. Sirah
was raised in England by a Kenyan-born mother and an Indian Sikh father,
worked in human rights and conflict resolution in Glasgow, and moved to
Chapel Hill to study at UNC's American Studies folklore program.
"Storytelling in Jonesborough is a good fit-this region has a long history of told stories," Sirah says. "But it's important that your story is flexible
enough to be inclusive. Our multicultural story is our strength in America."
He's worked with military commanders, State Department officials,
the U.S. State Department, the White House. He's a Rotary Champion
of Peace. His online training program "Telling Stories that Matter" has
brought many into his fold.
Listening to Sirah talk about storytelling will turn you into an optimist in
this time of division. Stories reflect who we are, what we value, and what
we need. If we share our story-and listen to others tell theirs-we have a
necessary tool to build a conflict-free society.
"Stories can destroy planets...and stories can save them."
-JV

ABOVE: Main Street,
home to boutiques,
museums and
restaurants, was the
first in Tennessee
to be designated as a
historic zone.
RIGHT: Storytellers
gather onstage for the
live local public radio
"Jonesborough Yarn
Exchange Radio Hour"
the fourth Monday of
each month.
FAR RIGHT:
The International
Storytelling Center is
appropriately placed
in the middle of Main
Street.
IMMEDIATE
RIGHT: "The Long
Trip Home" tells
stories from all parts of
Jonesborough.

underground, and brick sidewalks were
reestablished.
This is when a story hero appeared-
Jimmy Neal Smith. He organized the first
National Storytelling Festival in 1973,
which drew all of 60 people to hear stories told from the back of a hay wagon.
Last year's festival drew more than
10,000 visitors, each of whom spends an
estimated $800.
"People come to Jonesborough for the
Festival-and they think they've landed
in Brigadoon," Browning says.

It seems right that Browning is part of
the Jonesborough story. He's a big part of
the town's story-and he lives it, appearing in many Rep Theatre productions.
"This is an extended family of people
who care about one another," he says.
"We know the value of story."
Spend five minutes with Jules Corriere,
co-author of "Story Bridge: From Alienation to Community Action," and you'll
know why she's part of the Jonesborough
Story. She came to town to write and direct a play, "I Am Home," and she never
left. Now the Director of Public Outreach
at the McKinney Center, Corriere recently
debuted "The Long Trip Home, "a play
she wrote from the "extraordinary stories of ordinary people" collected by the
Jonesborough Story Brigade. A full third
of the 40 cast members are people of color.
"This is necessary art," she says. "It

shows what is possible with built and
shared understanding. You don't have to
go to Hollywood-we have our own stories to tell."
Mitch Miller, of the Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership, is
focused on the region's business development. Yet he greatly values what Jonesborough offers to prospective businesses and
their employees. "It comes down to this:
you have to piece it all together. Jonesborough adds much to the lure of the region.
Storytelling Capital of the World. Lots of
history. A town with world-class amenities. This is community at work."
Jonesborough is a story addict's dream
come true: a place where small stories get
told and become large. Large enough to
bring a small mountain town economic
stability and, just maybe, understanding
to a fragmented world.
MAY/JUNE 2019

15



Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019

Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - Intro
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - Cover1
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - Cover2
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - 3
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - 4
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - 5
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - 6
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - 7
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - 8
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Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - BRPG1
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - BRPG2
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - BRPG3
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