Everybody's Got a Story to Tell

Sundae Horn
Storytelling Porch Talk at OPS.
Storytelling Porch Talk at OPS.
Photo by Amy Howard

"Donald could pull a story out of a rock!" said Judy Kornegay, a student in the storytelling workshop taking place this week on Ocracoke. 

"Donald has brought out the best in people," agreed participant Betty Lentz. "So many stories have been born out of this week! Last year was wonderful, and this year's stories are even better. I will have to come back next year!" 

Their enthusiasm is contagious and the sentiment is shared among the participants. Over the 17 years that Donald and Merle Davis have been hosting these storytelling workshops, they've had people who've come back as many as twelve times. 

You may not know that Ocracoke is home to a famous storyteller. (You can find out more about him here and here and here.) Donald tells stories at schools and festivals all over the country, and has written numerous books. Most recently, he shared his stories at the Ocrafolk Festival, and the Ocrafolk Opry, and will do it again on the 4th of July in the yard at Books to Be Red.

Donald at work.
Donald at work.

Each year, Donald and Merle host two week-long workshops here on Ocracoke. Their workshop groups bring about 15-20 participants, plus tag-along spouses and friends who enjoy the camaraderie. This week's group has students hailing from North Carolina, Georgia, Indiana, Tennessee, and Maryland, and also two sisters, from Texas and California respectively, who "meet in the middle" here on Ocracoke. 

"'Way back when, people would ask me about workshops," Donald said. "And I did a couple of 1-day workshops, and some weekends here and there. Then we started doing weeklong program at the Omega Institute, and it gave us the idea to try it on Ocracoke." 

They started by sending invitations to people they knew from other workshops and hoping some would take the bait. They did! The first workshop filled up fast and they've kept filling up over the years. Some students are already professionals, or hoping to be, and some come for personal reasons. They want to learn about telling their own stories. 

Tonight at Deepwater Theater at 8pm, four participants will share stories with an audience. (It's free and open to everyone!)

"The stories we'll here Friday night are all stories that did not exist before the week started," Donald said. "They're all true stories, and the seeds for the stories were there, but the people didn't realize they were there."

Donald sees his job as "helping people find the stories that are already inside them." 

One of tonight's storytellers has spent the week putting together the story of her parents, because her grandchildren will never know them and she wants their memory to be preserved. 

"She's working on the story for herself and her family," Donald said. "But it's so good, we think everybody should hear it."

Over the week-long workshop, the participants get about 20 – 25 hours of instructional time with Donald. The rest is spent digging deep into Ocracoke culture. The lucky workshop attendees ate at Jason's Restaurant, Sweet Tooth, the Back Porch, the Pony Island and the Flying Melon. They went sailing with Captain Rob on the Wilma Lee and walked Springer's Point. They got a private concert with Martin Garrish and friends, and joined the audience at the Ocrafolk Opry. They also shared stories at two Porch Talks at the OPS Museum.

"The out-of-class time is as important a part of the learning as the class time," Donald said. "I'd noticed at other workshops, where it's all class time, at the end of the week people had no idea where they'd been."

Donald and Merle both emphasize the connection with the Ocracoke community. 

"When we went to the Pony for dinner, Noelle was our waitress," Merle said. "And some in our group who were here last year, remembered that she was our waitress last year and was going to have a baby. Noelle ran home to get her baby and brought her back to meet everyone. Our workshop groups like to feel that connection."

"There are stories in the community where we are this week," Donald said. "If they don't get out and meet people, they miss half the reason to be here. Having Jason tell us about fish cakes, or Vince tell about what fish he's caught that day is part of the experience." 

Among the workshop participants this week are Ocracoke residents Marcy Brenner and Bill Rich, who will both share stories tonight. In past years, island peeps Tom Pahl, Kati Wharton, Jennifer Kidwell, and B.J. Oelschlegel have also participated. 

"It's wonderful to have people who live on the island in the workshops," said Judy.

Sherrill Page, who's attended several times before with her husband, Billy, agreed and added, "The connection with the community on the island enriches the whole experience, and strengthens and deepens each year. We could do this in a Hyatt somewhere, but it wouldn't be the same."

Some past workshop participants have decided to make a permanent commitment to Ocracoke. Bill Jones, who is now president of OPS, and recently played Friar Lawrence in Ocracoke's version of "Romeo and Juliet," was once a storytelling workshopper. So was Doug Tanner, who recently bought a house on the island, and Lou Ann Homan, who spends summers on Ocracoke volunteering, doing Ghost Walks, and performing at the Ocrafolk Opry with her sidekick Philip Howard. 

About half the folks who've attended Donald and Merle's workshop have been first-time visitors to Ocracoke. Many decide to return with family and friends or stay a week after the workshop. Ocracoke gets in your blood that way.  

Betty is is enjoying staying with two women who are "first-timers" this year.

"We've just had a blast and a half this week," she said. "Everybody is just so thoroughly engaged in each other's lives. Everybody comes out of their shells around Donald. We call him 'The Donald' – we're all his groupies." 

As I started to leave, I asked Donald if there's anything else I should include in this article.

"If you're short, just make it up," he said.

This is storytelling, after all. 



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