Storytellers conference offers teaching experience

Andrew Henderson

Few forms of art are interactive with their viewers. Paintings are behind ropes in museums, acting is appreciated in theaters and singing echoes through grand halls. One form of art, however, is an ancient form of human expression that encompasses both the performer and listener’s imaginations transcending age, race and religion. And Bowling Green residents have an opportunity to be a part of it. 

The annual Kentucky Storytelling Conference will be held this Friday, Nov. 7 and Saturday, Nov. 8 at the Holiday Inn University Plaza and Sloan Convention Center. The conference is organized through the Kentucky Storytelling Association, whose mission is to promote and develop storytelling in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. 

Betsy Fleischer will chair the 2014 conference. Fleischer has been the past president and secretary of the Kentucky Storytelling Association and is now a board member at large. She is a storyteller herself and calls Harrodsburg her home. 

Fleischer said this year’s conference will offer a number of different workshops covering different storytelling elements and activities. She said some of the workshops will include making sense of storytelling, collaborating with museums in storytelling, crafting a story, storytelling in the classroom and many more. She said that for every conference they try to create a wide range of activities. 

“This isn’t just for storytellers, but for people who love stories,” Fleischer said.

Fleischer promised that those who come to the conference, regardless of their storytelling knowledge or experience, will be sure to find a positive and welcoming atmosphere. She said everyone could benefit from storytelling because stories connect people, no matter where they’re from.

“Life does not exist without stories,” Fleischer said. 

Pam Holcomb, one of the featured tellers for the conference, also holds this belief about stories. 

Holcomb is from Harlan and she considers herself primarily an Appalachian storyteller. She has garnered much recognition in the field over the years. She said at this year’s conference, she will be offering a workshop about using the five senses to enhance storytelling. 

Holcomb said she gained an interest in storytelling when her seventh grade teacher first introduced her to the art. She said that a lot of her stories come from listening to her family history and living in Appalachia. She said that she uses her storytelling as a platform to tell people about Appalachia.

“It introduces a lot of people to the culture that they’re not aware of,” Holcomb said. 

Holcomb performs at schools, churches and civic organizations, and she said she’d perform really anywhere that will allow her. She has even performed abroad and fondly remembered her experience of traveling to Israel to tell Bible stories. 

“I was there telling the stories where they took place,” Holcomb said. 

Judy Sima, another of the featured tellers for the conference, also shared her storytelling origins and experiences. 

Sima lives in West Bloomfield, Michigan and has accumulated many awards and recognitions over her storytelling career. Sima will be offering a workshop on how to develop student storytellers in the classroom and an introductory workshop on storytelling. She said she will also be telling stories to students at Cumberland Trace and North Warren elementary schools before the conference begins. 

 Sima said she worked as a school librarian for many years and began her start in storytelling with telling stories to elementary aged children. She said she started telling her students Halloween stories. Along the way, she ended up working with middle school students and started a storytelling club at the school. 

Sima said that many of her stories come from children’s books, but they also come from her family’s history. She recalled the story of how her mother escaped Nazi Germany and how powerful of an impact that story had on her. Stories such as this, she said, need to be handled in different ways. 

“You need it to be as factual as you can get it without it having to sound like a report — you have to make it interesting,” Sima said. 

She said that sharing the personal stories, like that of her mother, tends to validate other people’s experiences as well.

“By telling personal stories, I find that people connect,” Sima said. 

Apart from the various workshops offered, there will be a question and answer session at the conference with Holcomb and Sima. Open mic stories, where anyone can tell a story, will also be offered. The conference is this coming Friday and Saturday. Those interested can register online at or pay at the door the day of the conference.