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Storytelling World Award…and what makes it special (and what you might not know)

The delight that coursed through me on January 27, 2022 was tangible, and perhaps because I knew that Jim Luter also knew. The “Storytelling Basics in 8 Hours” through the Story Crossroads Academy received one of the 10 Storytelling World “Winner” Awards. It was the first year that digital content could be submitted to this annual award reviewed by a judging committee. The world is ever-evolving for storytelling. You can see the full list of Storytelling World Award recipients here.

And back to Jim Luter. He at first said, “No.” He worried about his declining health and being on oxygen and what that could mean for the overall filming. I insisted, and he still came with help from his daughter to perform.

When we organized the four modules of the self-led, online course of “Storytelling Basics in 8 Hours,” we wanted 10 different people to represent 10 different genres of storytelling. With Story Crossroads based in Utah, we wished to spotlight storytellers from here and who were known for these genres.

Thus, besides Jim Luter, we had the following:

We were missing “Myth.” Several people told myths, but it was not a type anyone was known for – at least in the state of Utah. So I approached Jim Luter.

I had to talk a while on the phone with him. Here was someone who spent hours upon hours promoting Story Crossroads. I didn’t want to admit to myself that Jim may not be around for too much longer. His daughter had made it possible for Jim to receive the Utah Honor Flight. It was one of his proudest moments. And with this “Storytelling Basics in 8 Hours” course? I wanted Jim’s legacy to continue.

I pushed past his objections. “I’m too old.” – maybe not quite in these words, but close enough. “I don’t usually tell myths.” – though I knew he could do anything he put his mind to. “I’m on oxygen.” – I said I was not worried about that showing up on film. I think when we got through five excuses, he knew I wouldn’t accept his “no.”

Now, mind you, this filming happened during the pandemic. We took many safety precautions. While we filmed at my home, I sent the rest of the family downstairs. I sanitized everywhere upstairs. The videographer and I wore masks the whole time. The story artists wore masks up until it was time to film.

I did wish that I didn’t have four steps to get into my home. This was the highest risk of the whole project. Though, Jim’s daughter made sure he could get up and down those steps. At one point, Jim wondered if we could film at his home to avoid any problems with steps. Yet, I wanted consistency with all the films for the course. It was tempting. I was that determined to include Jim.

Now let me take this moment to still show appreciation for all the story artists. They needed to be at their top level. They brought the energy.

George McEwan battled his own health with cancer a few years back. He had not performed as often as a result. Although, he is forever the 6-time Golden Shovel recipient of the Utah’s Biggest Liar that was founded by the Timpanogos Storytelling Institute and now carried on by Great Hall Theatrical Experiences (led by Stephen and Teresa Gashler). George could have won more Golden Shovels, but was asked to help judge to give others a chance to be “Biggest Liars.”

Janine Nishiguchi can be tricky to pin down as she works as a full-time children’s librarian and serves on the Weber State University Storytelling Festival Board. I have done a couple tandem pieces with her as we both love folktales (that I make sure you know within the course). I always love her attention to the originating culture while putting her own modern-day spins to things – honoring both the past and the present.

Kira Larkin writes and creates original pieces all the time. She uses the Utah State Library and is caught up with the latest audio books. She is part of the Blind Community that often is bypassed for storytelling opportunities. The videographer and I had to pull back the cords and cameras as she made it through my home. Though, she had been to my place several times but not with some much filming equipment.

Laurie Allen was kind to work through my request to replace “slave” to “enslaved” for the John Henry piece. Being adaptable made a difference. She was used to a different rhythm and my request could have thrown off the entire filming. But she handled it like a pro.

Thom Manning, being a high school teacher, needed to balance the filming with the demands of that profession. Considering all that teachers have faced the last couple years (and even before COVID), I certainly appreciated his dedication. And it was a delight to see him use Juggle Stix in my high-ceiling dining area.

Clive Romney has not been performing nearly as often as in times past. It would seem in times past that he sang and told stories every other day. He would travel all around Utah or having his own filming done in connection pioneer life. But who else represents historical tales like Clive? Everyone thinks “Clive” out here in Utah. I mean, he did found the Utah Pioneer Heritage Arts among other amazing feats. I make it a point to get every CD he puts out personally or in collaboration with others.

Julie Barnson had recently received the COVID vaccine before filming and was feeling tired. She somehow spooked up enough energy to bring on the scare for the ghost story that blended nicely with Utah history. This could have also been a historical tale…as many ghost stories can claim.

Suzanne Hudson went to great length to have the proper permissions from the author of her piece in order to demonstrate the literary tale. The filming day was looming, and all was finalized barely in time. Whew! Otherwise, we would have had to delay filming for her story or switched to a different story that was also a literary tale.

Karl Behling – well, you never know what story he will tell. He prefers to choose one in the moment. Yet, when filming, you have to know exactly what will be told. I knew this went up against his style, but he exceled in what needed to be told so we could gain inspiration from his wisdom tale.

Besides our 10 spotlighted story artists, we had Chip Royce as the official American Sign Language Interpreter. He is famous for being one of the key interpreters for the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival along with Dale Boam. So, yes, you have “Chip n’ Dale.” That Chip…I could watch the entire course through him and gain appreciation and love for how he puts his soul into it. Typically, in the interpreting world, the name is not highlighted or spotlighted. It’s common to know only the first name and not both first and last name. Yet, I wanted Chip to still receive credit for what he adds to the whole venture.

Then there’s me. Someone had to “narrate” or guide the whole course. I admit, the biggest reason it was me was because it saved Story Crossroads money. Everyone else was paid, though, being Executive Director, I volunteered my time.

So now you know the behind-the-scenes.

Of all these moments and happenings, I am thrilled that Jim Luter (as well as everyone else) can have this legacy and the honor of this Storytelling World Award. He passed away on October 4, 2021 and this course launched on April 15, 2021. I am most proud of pushing past Jim’s “No.” I can sense his presence sometimes. I know he knows.

Thank you for reading and honoring Jim and all who made this course possible. Thank you to the reviewers of the Storytelling World Award. If you wish to explore or share this self-led course, now knowing these background yet significant stories, then thank you…to you.

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