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Storyteller Elizabeth Ellis a master of mountain lore

Staff Report • Jul 23, 2013 at 9:21 AM

Elizabeth Ellis, one of the country’s most respected storytellers and native daughter of East Tennessee, will be Jonesborough’s next teller in residence.

The latest in a line of acclaimed performers to take the stage for the popular Storytelling Live! series, Ellis is known as a master of mountain lore and personal stories.

Just a few days after her weeklong residency, which runs from Tuesday, July 23, to Saturday, July 27, Ellis will celebrate her 70th birthday — a milestone she welcomes. Fortunately, she happens to be in a line of work where growing old is considered an asset.

“The older you get, the more you have to tell about,” said the storyteller, who has no plans to retire soon. “But I think one of my responses to becoming 70 is I find myself feeling a little inadequate for the role of being an elder. I wish I’d worked harder to prepare for that. If I’d have thought about it ahead of time, I would have put more energy into it.”

“I had a conversation with David Holt about this not terribly long ago,” she said. “We both agreed that if we had realized that we were going to live long enough to turn into the older generation, we would have tried to get much wiser along the way.”

She’s joking, of course, but the subject has been at the front of her mind for some time. She plans to present some of the stories she has collected around the subject in a special concert during her residency. The one-night-only event, “An Elder Is Some Kind of Tree, Right?” will be held at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, July 25. Tickets are $15, and are expected to sell out quickly.

A number of shops and restaurants in downtown Jonesborough will extend their hours Thursday evening before the concert. Shoppers can present their receipts at the International Storytelling Center to be entered in a weekly drawing for special prizes.

In Ellis’s light-hearted program, she’ll take a look at some of the issues surrounding aging.

“We live in a culture where people are afraid of death,” she said. “Nobody wants to talk about aging because it means your death is approaching. We worship youth, and we work extremely hard at not looking our age. We dye our hair. We get our faces lifted.”

Ellis, for one, plans to greet 70 with a calm attitude and a full agenda. But her “bucket list” is perhaps more focused than most. “It’s more like a lunch pail,” she says. “‘Bucket’ is an awfully big word.”

In addition to personal stories, Ellis’s matinee performances will include a number of Appalachian tales with strong female protagonists. (Her so-called “Jill” stories are a response to the ubiquitous Southern Jack tale.) The storyteller also plans to celebrate Christmas in July with a roundup of her favorite holiday tales, which are so good she sees no reason to wait till December.

The storyteller’s weeklong residency will feature daily performances at 2 p.m. in the Mary B. Martin Storytelling Hall, an intimate theater in the heart of the International Storytelling Center. Reservations are strongly encouraged.

Tickets for all matinee performances are $12 for adults and $11 for seniors, students, and children younger than 18. Season passes that offer savings of nearly 50 percent are also available while supplies last.

Ticket holders for all matinee and evening performances will save 10 percent on same-day dining at The Olde Courthouse Diner, The Dining Room or Main Street Café.

Information about all Teller-In-Residence performers, as well as a detailed schedule for 2013, is available at www.storytellingcenter.net.

The center is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Storytelling Live! is sponsored in part by Eastman Credit Union. Media sponsors are News 5-WCYB, FOX Tri-Cities, Tri-Cities CW, Johnson City Press, Kingsport Times-News, Herald & Tribune and Cumulus Media.

For more information about Storytelling Live! or to make a group reservation, call (800) 952-8392 ext. 222 or (423) 913-1276.

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