For years, I’ve been wanting to take my son to a storytelling festival. This year, finally got my act together, tracked one down, and got it on the calendar. Yesterday we headed up to El Sobrante for the Bay Area Storytelling Festival. We’d opted to just go the single-performance route and then maybe hang around for some of the open-mike storytelling. We drove up the east side of the peninsula and out past Berkeley and ended up in the overflow lot at Kennedy Grove Regional Park, then walked in got our tickets and some junk food and took our seats to hear Syd Lieberman.

What an  hour. Syd framed his performance by starting and ending with a couple of traditional Jewish stories, then filled the rest of the time with stories about himself and his family. Syd was an English teacher in Chicago for 30 years, and I’m pretty sure my son’s standard of what he expects/hopes for from his teachers next year just went up a notch. Especially, you know, when Syd told the story about taking his senior class–blindfolded–into downtown Chicago, dropping them off in pairs on streetcorners and telling them to find their way back to Evanston. And almost getting arrested one year for kidnapping.

After Syd’s hour, we bought a couple of his CDs, then headed to another tent for the five-minutes-each story swap session. That was fun–seeing how various people did on writing and delivery, confidence and ease. And admiring every one of them for doing the hardest part, getting up in front of that audience.

It was a wonderful day. I was right–I knew this art would resonate with my son who has a definite bit of the actor, as well as the writer, inside of him. On the way home, we talked about what makes someone a storyteller and when different people might be ready to take their stories up on the stage. We stopped at Starbucks, him for food, me for some caffeine, and we noted the fact that sitting and listening can tire you out (in a great way) as much as any form of physical exercise. And we drove home listening to more stories, on one of Syd’s CDs, both of us laughing and smiling and me, at least, having the tears come a couple of times, too.

It was one of those days that you set up and hope for the best and then, as it plays out, you see it turn into everything you hoped for and more. How old is this art? How long have people been telling and listening to stories and feeling connections between the storyteller and the audience, between themselves and the person seated next to them? And how much does it matter what form we use to tell and share these stories–whether it’s through the spoken word in person or in an MP3 file, or the written word on paper or in an e-book?

It’s the story, folks. And that, I can tell you, is here to stay.


  1. We used to have a fabulous storytelling weekend here in Solvang, but they stopped doing it a few years ago. Such a bummer. We really enjoyed that. I’m glad you guys were able to find one to go to. There’s nothing like a storyteller to bring a story to life.


    • beckylevine says:

      That’s such a shame that it went away. Do you guys go to PCPA in Solvang or Santa Maria? We grew up going to that–some of the best theater I’ve ever seen.

      THere’ll be another storytelling thing up here at the state park near our house this summer. I’m pretty sure we’re going!


  2. Stella Michel says:

    Sounds like it was a fun experience for both of you. I took a storytelling class some years back with Rita Auerbach, a now retired librarian (also the chair of this past year’s Caldecott committee). It was so much fun and she gave us lots of great tips. One that sticks out in my head is that you don’t have to tell the story verbatim from the book. Once I understood that, it was easy. As a requisite, we each had to tell a story. I did The Point, by Neil Nilsson.

    I think almost every culture has a storytelling tradition.


    • beckylevine says:

      That sounds really fun, Stella–something I’d like to do. That might be a lot more fun than taking a class on speaking in public, and I bet it would help in the same way!


  3. Wonderful post, Becky. Love thinking of the two of you on that ride home, sharing the stories…


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