Thirty-five years ago, Connie Regan-Blake volunteered to tell a story at a storytelling festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee. For her work in popularizing the art of storytelling nationwide, the National Storytelling Network has presented the Asheville resident with the Lifetime Achievement Award…
Local Storyteller Wins Award
By Paul Clark
October 2, 2006
Thirty-five years ago, Connie Regan-Blake volunteered to tell a story at a storytelling festival in Jonesborough, Tenn. For her work in popularizing the art of storytelling nationwide, the National Storytelling Network has presented the Asheville resident with the Lifetime Achievement Award.
Regan-Blake, a pioneer in the art of modern storytelling, was one of the first to bring the performing art to the national stage. At its convention in Pittsburgh in July, the National Storytelling Network recognized her for raising public awareness of the art, for preserving traditional art forms and for the significant originality of her life’s work.
“Even though I feel like I have another lifetime of things to do, it’s very satisfying to have that kind of marker in my life,” Regan-Blake said. “For the last 35 years to get an award like that, it means a lot to me and those who have helped me and also to those coming along because it gives them inspiration.”
A dramatist even when she’s not, she rolled her career through her mind when the convention emcee called her beforehand to get details of her life. Thirty-five years on stage is a long time and makes for a good story.
“When I started in 1971,” she said, “I was actually hired as a storyteller at the Chattanooga Public Library. My cousin (and former storytelling partner) Barbara Freeman was working there and said, ‘I think you can do this.'”
At that time there were no festivals or events focusing on storytelling. Jimmy Neil Smith started the first in Jonesborough, Tenn., in 1973. There were about 60 chairs in front of a flatbed truck parked in the street. When the call went out to the audience if anyone wanted to tell a story, Regan-Blake raised her hand.
“It was very exciting, just to be on that same flatbed where Ray Hicks (the late famous storyteller from Beech Mountain) had been on stage,” she said. Regan-Blake has told stories at the prestigious National Storytelling Festival there ever since (it is Friday through Sunday this year).
Like a rock tumbling down a creek, Regan-Blake’s style has gotten warmer and rounded over the years.
“When I hear Connie, it feels very conversational,” said spoken word poet Glenis Redmond. “It feels like you’re on a back porch and it might be your aunt telling a tale and doing it so effortlessly.
Regan-Blake tells traditional Appalachian tales and true-life and personal experience stories. She’ll be telling ghost stories at the Old English Inn in Spruce Pine on Oct. 21 and at the Foothills Storytelling Festival at Foothills Equestrian Nature Center in Tryon on Nov. 25.
The National Storytelling Network is a nonprofit, member-driven organization dedicated to advancing the art of storytelling as a performing art, teaching aid and cultural transformation process.