ETSU/Umoja Storytelling Festival/Institute to feature Ford, Whaples

Lyn Ford

JOHNSON CITY – Storytellers Lynette Ford and Suzi “Mama” Whaples will headline the ETSU/Umoja Storytelling Festival/Institute on Friday and Saturday, Aug. 8-9.

This is the 10th year of the East Tennessee State University Storytelling Program’s partnership with Johnson City’s Umoja Festival, bringing renowned storytellers and related activities to the annual cultural event in downtown Johnson City.

ETSU/Umoja Storytelling performances will begin at 4 p.m. both days on the Majestic Park Storytelling Stage, located at the gazebo between Main and Market streets on the site of the old Majestic Theater.  Included will be stories and songs from Dr. Joseph Sobol, Dr. Delanna Reed and their friends, colleagues and graduates from the ETSU Storytelling Program.

Ford, who will perform at 6 p.m. both Friday and Saturday, has shared stories and facilitated workshops for more than 20 years as an artist-in-schools for the Greater Columbus (Ohio) Arts Council, the Ohio Alliance for Arts Education and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. 

Among the awards Ford has earned for her work are two Oracle Awards from the National Storytelling Network – the first for Service and Leadership in 2007, followed by the Circle of Excellence Award in 2013 – as well as a 2013 Anne Izard Storytellers’ Choice Award and Storytelling World Resource Award for her first book, “Affrilachian Tales: Folktales from the African American Appalachian Tradition.”  She was inducted into the National Association of Black Storytellers’ Circle of Elders in 2012.

Whaples will share tales of life in the West Virginia mountains on Aug. 9 from 6-7 p.m.  She is the teller-in-residence for the week of Aug. 5-9 at the International Storytelling Center in Jonesborough, which is co-sponsoring her appearance at the Umoja Festival.

Whaples blends Appalachian myth, legend and culture with stories of her life, her family’s lives and more.  She has toured America as a teller, conference speaker, humorist and teacher.

Since 1997, the Umoja/Unity Festival has showcased music, art, dance and food from various cultures and peoples of the region, nation and world.  It is presented free of charge through funding by a broad coalition of churches, businesses, citizens, organizations and grants.  In 2005, the ETSU Storytelling Program began a partnership with the festival to bring noted ethnic traditional and contemporary storytellers to the Umoja stage.

For more information on the ETSU/Umoja Storytelling Festival/Institute, contact Sobol, coordinator of the university’s Storytelling Program, at 423-439-7863.  For more information on the Umoja Festival, visit or call 423-426-2851.

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