Storytellers in Donald Davis’s June storytelling workshop on Ocracoke practice their skills at the Ocracoke Preservation Society.

By Bailey Herndon; photos by Ocracoke Observer staff

Sometimes we get lost, but stories help us find ourselves. 

That is why DuPre Sanders is so passionate about the art of storytelling.

DuPre Sanders

Sanders, pastor of the Roxboro Baptist Church, Roxboro, Person County, was one of 18 who attended Donald Davis’s storytelling workshop here in June.

A gifted speaker, Sanders said his congregation loves the stories he weaves into his sermons, and in 2015, sent him on his first sabbatical to hone his storytelling technique in Davis’s workshop.

“They liked my stories better than my exegeses (of Biblical scripture),” Sanders said after three members of the group told stories for an Ocracoke Preservation Society Porch Talk. Sanders told a story of a time during a college trip when he thought he was in a friend’s house but woke up in a stranger’s house.

Sanders hopes that his stories have encouraged people to be kinder and gentler.

“Stories help us build strong relationships,” he said.

An internationally renowned storyteller, Davis holds his sought-after workshops throughout the year in various locations.

“Your identity is not how many college degrees you have, but it’s your stories,” Davis said about what he teaches.

Donald Davis, courtesy of his website

And that identity is covered by layers of the past.

“Stories carry our identity—the people you came from and the things you’ve lived through,” he said.  “The more we know our stories, the more we can make proper decisions about things to keep and things to discard.”

During these week-long workshops Davis gives prompts and exercises that help his students uncover those stories and learn how to tell them.

“Storytelling brings out who you are,” said Doug Tanner of Washington, D.C. “It’s serious psychotherapy.”

Digging down into the memory banks helps Tanner look at the self that is buried, to bring it out and own it.

“Our stories are the windows into our souls,” he said.  

Norris Spencer

Norris Spencer, vice-president of the Virginia Area Storytelling Association in Virginia Beach, Virginia, agreed.

“We find out who we are with stories,” she said.

Leah Oakley of Athens, Alabama, has attended three of Davis’s workshops.

“With the overload of technology, it is important to tell and listen to stories,” she said. “Stories help us slow down and relax.”

Leah’s passion for storytelling and her hope to keep this art form that predates written history alive, she inspired her husband to join her in this year’s workshop.

Her husband, Ron Oakley, worries that storytelling is a dying art.

“People used to spend hours telling stories but these days we can’t slow down to listen,” he said.

Davis concurs, noting that today’s culture spends too much time watching stories on various media.

“Storytelling is letting people play with their own imaginations,” he said.

Like giving a speech, storytelling forces people out of their comfort zones and makes them speak about their personal experiences in front of an audience.

However, these storytellers have no fear.

“You just have to make your butterflies fly away,” Spencer said.

The “tellers” ended the week with a free recital on Friday night in Deepwater Theatre.

Carol Cain

Among the tellers was first-time workshop attendee Don Basnight of Chapel Hill, who told a humorous and moving story about the last fishing trip he took with his late cousin.

Leah Oakley recounted a mission trip after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 to Mobile, Mississippi, where the accommodations were far from her standards. From this, she appreciated what she had in the midst of those who had so little.

While each story was personal to the teller, each story was relatable by the audience.

“Many people don’t think they have a story, but when they sit down and think deeply, they can always find something,” said Jimmy Warlick of Weaverville, Buncombe County, another workshop participant. “Everyone has a story.”


The storytellers in Donald Davis’s June storytelling workshop.
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