Hannah Harvey was raised a stone’s throw from Jonesborough, the nation’s storytelling capital. But the storyteller who influenced her most was even closer to home — right by the fireplace, to be exact.
“I first learned about storytelling from my grandfather,” Harvey says. “I remember being 9 years old and sitting and listening to him tell stories of his hometown. My grandmother would be snapping string beans and I would listen to him bring alive these places that no longer existed.”
Now a storyteller herself, Harvey will be the next teller in residence for the popular Storytelling Live! series. Her residency, which runs Oct. 18-22, will feature daily matinee performances. All concerts begin at 2 p.m. in the Mary B. Martin Storytelling Hall, an intimate theater in the heart of the International Storytelling Center. Tickets are limited and reservations are highly recommended.
A specialist in Appalachian lore, part of Harvey’s mission is to promote her local culture in the wide world.
“In going away, I realized that in the ivory tower, hill folk — my people — are the last group of people you can make fun of in public and get away with it,” she explains. “We’re seen as hillbillies and hicks. Even in academia, you hear these slurs thrown around. It irked me when my freshman roommate was genuinely surprised that I had shoes in my closet since I was from Tennessee.”
In addition to regional folklore and traditional Scottish tales, Harvey tells the true-life stories she’s collected from a mining community in southwestern Virginia.
“They’re stories of men and women miners and their families, and how underground miners develop a relationship with the earth that is like no other relationship I have ever encountered,” she says. “Most of the miners I spoke with said it’s rough work, but they loved it.
“As you’re tunneling through, you have to actually listen to the language that the tunnels speak to you,” she continues. “The miners talked about it like it had a language. The mines themselves, you enter through a place called the mouth. You can find your way through a tunnel if the lights go out by feeling the air currents in the tunnels, so there’s almost this breath down there. And you pass through these tunnel walls called ribs, which can sometimes break off and roll onto you.”
In fact, a rib-rolling accident happened in a mine that Harvey had visited as part of her research just weeks after her time there. It was a sobering reminder of the many dangers that miners face. Yet Harvey has found that her subjects felt genuine affection for their work, even after suffering devastating injuries.
“You’d expect them just to hate the mines because their backs are broken. They’ve got black lung,” she says. “But they love it and they dream about it, even years after being out of the mines.
“It humbled me how honest they were and how much they told me because they wanted other people to know the story of their lives,” she adds. “The story I tell matters because it directly reflects who they are. I have that impulse as a performer to get it right.”
Tickets for Harvey’s performances are $12 for adults and $11 for seniors, students and children under 18. Ticket stubs will save audience members 10 percent on same-day dining at Bistro 105, The Cranberry Thistle, The Dining Room or Main Street Café.
The International Storytelling Center is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday.
Storytelling Live! is sponsored by Mountain States Health Alliance and Phil Bachman Toyota Scion. Media sponsors are News 5-WCYB, FOX Tri-Cities, Tri-Cities CW4, Johnson City Press, Kingsport Times-News and Citadel Broadcasting.
A detailed schedule of the 2011 Storytelling Live! season is available at www.storytellingcenter.net.
For more information about Storytelling Live! or to make a group reservation, call (800) 952-8392 ext. 222 or (423) 913-1276.