Advancing Storytelling to a Fine Art

“A lot of people say, ‘Anyone can tell a story’… Well, I agree with that, that anyone can tell a story, just in the way anyone can provide first aid… but with more training and experience you’re better at what you do.”

The craft of oral storytelling has evolved and grown over the centuries, Kevin Strauss told me. He takes great pride in being one of America’s 200 or so full-time storytellers, traveling the Midwest and telling his new twists on old fables to children at schools and libraries. Now he is working to elevate the craft into a fine art.

Kevin invited me into his beautiful home in Rochester, Minnesota, during my cross-country road trip across America interviewing creatives. (A five-minute video of Kevin is below.)

He told me of how, with the loving support of his wife, he moved from the woods to a major urban center so he could pursue a career as a full-time storyteller. And he explained how he is working with other professional storytellers to develop steps to honor and reward those reaching the pinnacle of this particular art form.

Anyone can call themselves a “master storyteller,” Kevin said, but when someone does so without proper skill and training, and they flop, it undermines both the art and the market for trained professionals. In the video he discusses the idea of a canon of stories that any storyteller should know.

A Cloudy Day in Downtown Rochester

Not in the video is his description of what else he and his colleagues are developing. It is, in essence, a grading system for storytellers. There are certain fundamental elements to storytelling, both in the story itself and in the presentation. They are developing a grading system to in some way quantify quality. He acknowledges there are limitations to this approach, but it’s a step he thinks will help storytelling be taken more seriously, and true master storytellers better acknowledged.

It was admirable to see someone who found a way to work full-time doing what he loves, but also wants to give back to that love — storytelling — by helping to elevate it in the eyes of the world. As a writer, I’ve told stories for a quarter-century, but not usually on a stage. I learned a lot from Kevin about his own art form, and how quality in his chosen artistic pursuit comes not just from talent but from training and experience. That is something I could relate to and understand.

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