October 18, 2021

Story Arts Festival comes to Homer

Once Upon A Time

Katie Keyser/Living and Leisure Editor

A display featuring writers who will be at Homer’s Story Arts Festival.

Priscilla Berggren-Thomas gets the question all the time from the Rotary guys: “Are people still
reading?”

The librarian and director of Phillips Free Library says, emphatically: Yes!

“People are still reading. Until we evolve to communicate telepathically, we are going to have to read. It’s how we transfer information from one person to the next,” she said.

What better way to communicate then by telling a story?

Berggren-Thomas and Rachel Hyde are working with a group of people to explore the art of the story by staging a two-day Story Arts Festival this month — all free to anyone who wants to take part.

“We have four storytellers, one puppeteer, two illustrators and five authors. It’s geared for the whole family,” Berggren-Thomas said. “We have some picture book authors and illustrators right on up to novelists and memoirists for adults,” said Berggren-Thomas.

The event will take place Sept. 27 and 28 at various locales around the Homer village green.

“There’s stuff going on simultaneously on the Green, here at the library, at the Center for the Arts of Homer, at the school, and Congregational Church. People can go to whatever event they can squeeze in. It’s all free. And it’s all good,” she said.

Story of the acts

The festival will feature Stephen Kuusisto, author of “Have Dog Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey,” who will give the keynote talk: “Woofing: What I Learned About Memoir Writing from my Dog.”

The legally blind poet and and author works at Syracuse University and has a number of books to his credit, including “Planet of the Blind.”

Kuusisto grew up in the ‘50s and was taught to deny his blindness. He worked doubly hard to look like everyone else. At 38, he was cut from his job teaching at a college. It forced him to get a seeing-eye dog so he could find a job in another city. The dog opened up his life.

There will be Vanessa Johnson of Syracuse who does storytelling from the West African tradition, Berggren-Thomas said.

“She does a lot of African stories, Underground Railroad stories and Civil Rights stuff,”Berggren-Thomas said. She will present two workshops, “I’m Telling” and “What Should Not Be Forgotten: Telling our Family Stories.”

Justina Ireland, author of “Dread Nation,” a young adult fiction book, will talk on “Past is Present: How our History Shapes our Now.”

Ireland’s “Dread Nation” is an alternative history book, but it is so relevant to today, Berggren-Thomas said. Alternative history takes place in a historical period but something is different from the original.

“Dread Nation” takes place in Gettysburg during the Civil War. The dead rise as zombies and the Civil War comes to a halt as everyone must fight the zombies, Berggren-Thomas said.

The book has so much to say about racism and reconstruction. The main character is a very strong and capable woman all the way through, she said.

“It’s really inspiring,” said Berggren-Thomas.

Little York author and poet Nancy Dafoe will present on poetry, Anne Mazer, a writer of the Abby Hayes series for elementary school kids, will do a couple of talks, one a writing workshop for children.

“I am excited about everybody,” Berggren-Thomas said.

Katie Keyser/Living and Leisure Editor

A display of Stephen Kuusisto’s works at the Phillips Free Library in Homer. The village will be taken over by story tellers this month.

 

Story behind the festival

The committee has been organizing the festival for a year and a half.

“I had a patron come and make a donation,” Berggren-Thomas said. “They said to me,‘Do something with it that you have always wanted to do, but wouldn’t be able to do without the money.’ I have always wanted to do a book festival.”

She went to the board of directors at the Phillips Free Library with the idea. “Rachel Hyde was on the board at the time: ‘I always wanted to do a story telling festival,’” Hyde said.

The Story Arts Festival combines the two.

Patrons and organizations donated funds and Berggren-Thomas got a $5,000 grant from the Myrtle Dee Nash Memorial Fund of the Community Foundation of Tompkins County.

Meghan Aagaard of McGraw, a stay-at-home mother of two, is helping organize the event.

A Story Arts Festival has never happened before in Cortland County, she said. “It’s a chance for anyone to come out and listen to stories and maybe learn how to write them.”

“I love stories,” said Ingrid Fox of Homer. When she learned about the event, she asked to be involved.“It’s a good thing to be coming to Homer.”

She lived in Oswego County and worked as a librarian there for 2 1/2 years, where there was a storytelling festival.

“What I loved about it, children of any age, right on up to adult, can tell stories,” Fox said. “It gives children a chance to express themselves.”

Stories for yourself

People need only an an idea, their hands, their voice, to tell a story, Fox said.

“Research bears me out on this,” Berggren-Thomas added. “We learn better with stories.”

She said MRI scans show brain activity during a a person’s actual experience is the same as when a person is experiencing a story.

“Stories do not get enough credit for their ability to change us,” Berggren-Thomas said. And while people are reading and writing on their cell phones and Facebook, they also need to read deeply.

“Research on the ability to think critically is tied to the ability to read deeply. We run a great risk when we cease to read at a more thoughtful, layered, focused, way,” she said.