Once upon a Time

"Some people just listen, they never do tell," declares teacher and storyteller Linda Spitzer, referring to members of the Miami Storytellers Guild, the organization she founded in 1990 by recruiting other aficionados through a newspaper advertisement.

This Friday night Miami will be one of many cities around the world reverberating with the sounds of storytelling when thirteen of the guild's members, including Spitzer, Nicholas the Storyteller, and seven-year-old Kristin Alspaugh and her mom Helen, spin yarns as part of Tellabration '98. Created by storyteller J.G. Pinkerton ten years ago to foster an appreciation for the art, the event was first held in six Connecticut towns. Two years later it came under the aegis of the National Storytelling Association and spread to 27 states. Last year Tellabration went global: 44 states and 10 foreign countries now host the event. This Friday also marks the culmination of National Storytelling Week and the recently designated Florida Storytelling Week.

A lifelong folklore buff, Spitzer immersed herself in tale-telling fourteen years ago while attending a conference of Jewish educators (she has taught Hebrew school locally for more than 30 years). The moment she heard author Peninnah Schram animatedly recounting the fable "The Golden Mountain," she was hooked. Spitzer recalls thinking: "I'd love to do this. Instead of having to read to my class to teach a value, I'd tell a story. I bet it would work better." It did, once she honed her skills by observing other storytellers, attending a Florida camp devoted to the subject, and practicing in her car while driving around town. "When I first started, you'd look at me in my car and my mouth would be moving," she laughs. "I don't have to do that any more. I'm so accomplished." In 1996 she earned a master's degree in storytelling from Eastern Tennessee State University.

These days Spitzer, who is also known for the ghost tale sessions she conducts Thursday nights at the Biltmore Hotel, draws from a repertoire of more than 200 stories. She claims none is memorized. "I talk them," she says, adding that good storytellers should make eye contact, be enthusiastic and articulate, and have a dash of charisma.

In addition to treating people to an evening of well-told tales, Spitzer hopes Tellabration will ferret out more people who share her passion for recounting a gripping anecdote. "People hear us and they get hooked," she says. "It's an intimate art form. They want to know how to do it, and there aren't that many people around to teach them. We're perpetuating and promoting storytelling."

-- Nina Korman

Tellabration '98 takes place at 7:00 p.m. Friday, November 20, at Coral Gables Congregational Church, 3010 De Soto Blvd, Coral Gables. Admission is free. Call 305-665-8429.