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  • Loren Niemi

The Tribe Gathers


The 2019 National Storytelling Network Summit has ended and after the fact, what was that about?


The usual elements of conferences - Keynotes, workshops, performances, awards and of course, time with each other All the usual elements were good but for me it is the time with each other that is the essential conference. The conversations where we check in with each other as to what the last months or year have been, how we are physically, emotionally, spiritually and what is coming. Conversations with Joel Ben Izzy, Carol Birch, Jennifer Munro, Angela Lloyd, Eldrina Duma, Michael McCarty, Lou Ann Homan, Heather Forest and more at breakfast, in the bar, between sessions. Those conversations remind us that we are not alone in a work that is essential one individual standing and delivering.


As I posted on Facebook, the gathering of the tribe is lovely and sweet and terrible as you cannot have enough conversations or long enough conversations to be clear about the work we do - the making and collecting, the telling and teaching, the performing and witnessing. - that is the core of a storytelling that matters. Those conversations where we appreciate and value each other's contributions. Where we value and affirm each other's presence in the world.


New folks are met and folded into the tribe. There is no initiation rite other than to show up and engage. When they come to the Oracle awards, they hear the testimony of service and excellence from those who have proceeded them in this work. This year it included an award for Nancy Donoval, whom I have had the pleasure of teaching with 17 years and is now newly appointed to lead the storytelling program at the East Tennessee State University. Good on her.


The dead and missing are named and recounted. This year there was a special acknowledgement of Brother Blue. He who was the Holy Fool, the avatar of permission and heart. He was a blessing and if you saw him or met him more than once a mystery. I was honored to have known him. If I might have half the impact as he had, I will have made this work worthwhile.


It is the way of the world. We come together and depart again. We do our work and pass from the stage. In between there is story and the building of community through story.