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Georgia Mountain Storytelling Festival

The Georgia Mountain Storytelling Festival has a new website:

Georgia Mountain Storytelling Festival, Young Harris College, Claim Your Voice

The festival showcases the art of Southern storytelling with a particular focus on Appalachian stories, both traditional and contemporary. The GMSF offers storytelling and musical performances, children’s events, and workshops so that community members, visitors, and students of all ages and from all disciplines will not only learn about the tradition and history of our region through storytelling, but also have the opportunity to become part of its preservation. Thanks to a generous grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, we have a wonderful group of artists lined up for GMSF 2017: acclaimed folksinger John McCutcheon; award-winning children’s author Carmen Agra Deedy, whose tales are a delightful blend of her Cuban heritage and her upbringing in Georgia; Cherokee teller Lloyd Arneach; Sheila Arnold Jones, creator of History’s Alive!; and master of the tall tale, the hilarious Bil Lepp. Please see below for more on our tellers.

View the 2017 schedule here

Click here for the festival parking map.

Also, check out the photos from last year’s festival, featuring Lyn Ford, well-known Affrilachian teller, celebrated Appalachian musicians David Holt and Josh Goforth, environmentalist Doug Elliot, Circle of Excellence Award-winner Andy Offutt Irwin, balladeers Sweet Sunny South, and a special panel of YHC student tellers. (Photos courtesy of Nathan Baerreis and Seeing Southern.) The festival drew over 700 visitors of all ages, from toddlers to septuagenarians, from Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, and North Carolina. Please take a look at some of the comments from last year’s festival visitors:

  • As in 2015, the talent was incredible! The storytellers and musicians I saw were engaged with the audience and I loved the pieces they shared pieces of personal information, like a connection to an instrument, an artist, or another storyteller. I'm so grateful for the opportunity to have shared another festival. Thank you!
  • Being at this event for one day felt like a week's vacation, I was so refreshed and renewed afterwards! Thank you!!
  • My group of 4 loved the event. Everything was wonderful from the moment we stepped on the shuttle to the very end. The partnership with the Ridges was much appreciated as well. We are excited about attending next year for hopefully our third year in a row. We attended only one workshop but found it to be an entertaining and educational experience. I particularly enjoyed the relaxed and intimate setting for the event. Although I hope you continue to grow, there is something very special about being able to approach the performers and to even be able to sit down and chat with them. It's a remarkable experience, and I have recommended the festival to several other people and will continue.
  • Overall, I'd give it an A+. Well done.
  • I've been thinking about how much your volunteers have worked to incorporate storytelling (and the storytelling festival!) into an informative multi-ethnic educational environment with a community outreach/storytelling-for-children component; And I'm also tickled to my toenails to be one of your past festival storytellers.  I'd do it again anytime! –Lyn Ford


Purchasing your tickets in advance is strongly recommended. Advance ticket sales will run through February 25, 2017, via Eventbrite. You may also purchase in advance by mailing your ticket order and check to: Dr. Ruth Looper, Department of English, Young Harris College, 1 College Street, Young Harris, GA 30582. Make your check payable to Young Harris College, and write "storytelling festival" in the subject line. For more information, contact or visit us on Facebook

Sponsorships are available to support the Georgia Mountain Storytelling Festival. Please consider a gift at one of the levels outlined here, but any size donation is very much appreciated.






Spotlight on Our 2017 Tellers:

John McCutcheon

John McCutcheon’s first award-winning song was titled The Ponderosa No-Cream-in-My-Coffee Blues, penned at the greasy spoon of the same name in his Wisconsin hometown. He was all of 15 years old and it won him his high school talent show. “My best friend claims that he still has a cassette of the song,” McCutcheon recently disclosed, “and if we ever have a serious falling out it’s going right up on YouTube.”

Since those early creative days John McCutcheon has gone on to write hundreds of songs and garnered more than his share of accolades. His eclectic catalog of ballads, historical songs, children’s songs, love songs, topical satire, fiddle and hammer dulcimer instruments, and even symphonic works are among the broadest in American folk music. His thirty-six albums have earned 6 Grammy nominations. His songwriting has been hailed by critics around the world; his song Christmas in the Trenches is considered a classic and was recently named one of the 100 Essential Folk Songs.

“What sets McCutcheon’s songs apart is that he’s actually writing about something!” observed well-known folk music DJ Bob Blackman. Whether it’s a musical snapshot of a day in the life of an Alaskan salmon fisherman, a child’s pondering the loss of her first tooth, remembering a moment that was omitted from our history books, lampooning the latest foibles on the national political scene, or celebrating the joy of old love McCutcheon’s songs are always about something small and, at the same time, something much bigger. “All big things start with little things,” he observed, “the way in which a song is able to open up the universal from the personal is one of the great joys of writing.”

In addition to his own writing, John has collaborated with some of the major songwriting talents in the folk music world including Tom Paxton, Si Kahn, Holly Near, Steve Seskin, and Tom Chapin. In 2006 he released an album of collaborations entitled Mightier than the Sword, in which he co-wrote songs with some of his favorite authors, including Barbara Kingsolver, Wendell Berry, Rita Dove, Lee Smith, and Carmen Agra Deedy. He has worked in the Woody Guthrie Archives completing some of Guthrie’s unfinished songs and has composed musical settings of poetry by Pablo Neruda and Jose Martí.

With his deep roots in American traditional music, his approach to writing reflects both a simplicity and a layered complexity that creates songs that are always more than they seem. “He is a master at the difficult craft of the ballad,” touted the Boston Globe. “Storytelling with the richness of fine literature,” added the Washington Post. “One of our country’s best songwriters,” said Pete Seeger.” 

Please visit John McCutcheon’s website,,  for more information.

Carmen Agra Deedy

Carmen Agra Deedy has been writing for children for over two decades. Born in Havana, Cuba, she came to the U.S. as a refugee in 1964. She grew up in Decatur, Georgia, where she lives today.

Deedy began writing as a young mother and storyteller whose NPR commentaries on All Things Considered were collected and released under the title, Growing Up Cuban In Decatur, Georgia. The pithy collection of twelve stories soon garnered awards, among them a 1995 Publishers Weekly Best Audio (Adult Storytelling) and a 1996 Parents’ Choice Gold Award.

Her children’s books have won numerous awards. The Library Dragon received various children’s state book awards and has sold near half a million copies. In 2003 the book was her home state’s choice to represent Georgia at the Library of Congress’s National Book Festival.

The Yellow Star was the recipient of the 2001 Jane Addams Peace Association Book Award (Honor), presented to Ms. Deedy at the United Nations by Mrs. Kofi Annan.  It also received the 2001 Christopher Award, the 2000 Parent’s Choice Gold Award, the 2001 Bologna Ragazzi Award (for best international children’s book), the 2002 WOW Award (National Literary Association of England), among other notable awards and honors. It has been translated to over a dozen languages.

Martina the Beautiful Cockroach was presented with the 2008 Pura Belpre Honor Award, the 2008 NCSS/CBC Notable Social Studies Book Award, the 2008 Best Children’s Books of the Year (Bank Street College of Education), the 2008 International Latino Book Award, the Irma Simonton and James H. Black Award (Honor), the 2008 E.B White Award (Nominee), and the 2009 ALA Odyssey Audio Award (Honor), among others.

Deedy’s most recent children’s book, 14 Cows for America, is based on an astonishing gift Americans received from a Maasai village in Kenya, following the events of 9/11. The book was released in September of 2009 and is a New York Times Bestseller. The Wall Street Journal described it as a  “ . . . moving and dramatically illustrated picture book.”

Deedy is now expanding into the world of chapter books with her upcoming Fall 2011 title, The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale. This is a story of deception, intrigue, and derring-do that reveals the unlikely alliance between a cheese-loving cat and the Cheshire Cheese inn’s mice in Victorian England.

Deedy has spent the past twenty years writing and telling stories. She has been an invited speaker at venues as varied as The American Library Association, Refugees International, The International Reading Association, Columbia University, The Smithsonian Institute, TED, The National Book Festival, and the Kennedy Center.

An ardent supporter of libraries, she was the 2008 National Spokesperson for School Library Media Month (AASL). She has spoken before Noble Laureates and Pulitzer Prize winners, CEOs of major corporations, and heads of state. Over a span of twenty years, Deedy has told stories to hundreds of thousands of school children. They remain her favorite audiences.”

For more information, please visit

Lloyd Arneach, Cherokee Storyteller

Lloyd Arneach tells stories to audiences of all ages. His personal style enlivens stories from Cherokee traditions, from his personal experiences, and from contemporary and historical events. "I'm fortunate to have a wealth of stories to share,' he says, "and I'll tell stories to anyone who will sit down and listen."

Born and raised on the Qualla Boundary, Lloyd Arneach attended Guilford College and served in the United States military, including a year in Vietnam. He moved to Atlanta in 1967 and began sharing Cherokee history and culture through storytelling. His uncles, David and George Owl, were his earliest storytelling influences. After absorbing the traditional Cherokee stories and storytelling style, Lloyd added stories from other sources - his own experiences, other elders, and scholars. He tells stories about Wounded Knee, the Trail of Tears, Ishi, and Chief Joseph.

Lloyd Arneach has told stories at the National Storytelling Festival, the President Carter Center, the High Museum in Atlanta, Northwestern University, Mississippi State College, the Atlanta Storytelling Festival, the Cherokee Fall Festival, powwows, and other events. He has been featured in Voices in the Wind (a video documentary by Gary Moss), in National Geographic television specials, and on Georgia Public Television. His stories are included in the book Storytellers: Folktales and Legends from the South by John Burrison (University of Georgia Press, 1990), and his version of The Animals' Ballgame was published as a children's book with illustrations by Lydia Halverson (Children's Press). Lloyd Arneach served as Senior Native American Advisor for the Festival of Fires, an all Native American event included in the Cultural Olympiad of the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia. He coordinated the relay run of the flame from Cherokee, North Carolina, to the Gwinnett County Arts Center in Duluth, Georgia, for the Festival of Fires.

Lloyd has published another book of stories, Long-Ago Stories of the Eastern Cherokee, which is now in its fourth printing. His CD Can You Hear the Smoke? is a collection of stories and Native America legends. Both are available through his website.

Please see for more information.

Sheila Arnold Jones

Sheila Arnold currently resides in Hampton, VA. She is the CEO and Lead Performer of History’s Alive! and her major focus is performing, managing and marketing this flourishing business. Through History’s Alive! Sheila has given over 600 presentations for schools, churches, professional organizations and museums, in 26 states. In addition, she contracts with Colonial Williamsburg Foundation to present Historic Character Interpretation and teach teachers at their Summer Teachers Institute.

Sheila has twice been one of the featured “regional” Storytellers at the Colonial Williamsburg Storytelling Festival. Sheila has also presented Professional Development sessions, Storytelling Programs and Character Presentations at educational conferences, including Valley Forge Teacher Institute (2 years), Social Studies Conferences in New York, Louisiana, Virginia, South Carolina, Arkansas and Oklahoma, and at the National Council of Social Studies. Previously, Sheila has worked as a Social Worker with aggressive adolescents having emotional problems, a Hampton City Schools Substitute Teacher and led a Drama Ministry. She often uses her creative talents to do creative writing and/or drama workshops with children and teens, and has been called on to be a motivational speaker for high school students and young adults on many occasions.

Sheila was a Coordinator for Colonial Williamsburg’s Teachers’ Institute for the past 6 summers, where she had the privilege to work with and train teachers further about colonial history and exciting teaching techniques. Previously at Colonial Williamsburg she held positions as Manager of Programmatic Outreach, and Assistant to the Director of Public Relations. Through these positions Sheila learned she loved developing, coordinating and scheduling programs for guests and visitors. Often she was called upon by Administrative Officers and Conference Sales to develop itineraries for high-level organizations and groups coming to visit. Earlier she worked with Information Technology Systems (ITS) and was the manager of their first ever weekend-shift, and created the training document used for new employees coming into the project. In addition, she was a Mary Kay, Inc. Independent Senior Beauty Consultant. For three years, she was the Drama Ministry Director at First Baptist Church of Hampton, VA –where she created a viable “seasons” of major and small plays, as well as directed and wrote many original skits and plays performed at the church.

Sheila has performed in a myriad of ways since she was eight years old, including the role of a “Little Ray of Sunshine,” a slapstick comedy which was performed on several Army bases in Germany. She has been writing – poems, plays, fiction and songs – since she was in 7th grade, where she was encouraged by her English class to read several of her stories for her classmates. Sheila has written and directed many plays, and is often asked to collaborate with other playwrights or evaluate their work. In 2003, Sheila premiered her monologue series, “And the Women Were There…” (7 women who talk about their life with Jesus) and has a full-length play of the same title. Sheila often presents one or two of these women to requesting organizations. She also offers a full-day or half-day workshop focusing on women in the Bible and relating to the woman of today. Finally, Sheila has been doing character portrayals since 1998 where she took on the role of Ol’ Bess, an 18th-century tavern slave. 

For more information, visit

Bil Lepp

Growing up in a family where the truth was fluid, Bil Lepp became adept at spinning tales and exaggerating circumstances at an early age. A nationally renowned storyteller and five-time champion of the West Virginia Liars’ Contest, Bil’s outrageous, humorous tall-tales and witty stories have earned the appreciation of listeners of all ages and from all walks of life. Though a champion liar, his stories often contain morsels of truth which shed light on universal themes. Be it a hunting trip, a funeral, or a visit to the dentist, Bil can find the humor in any situation.

Lepp explains that while his stories may not be completely true, they are always honest.

Bil is the author of six books and sixteen audio collections. His first children’s book, The King of Little Things, won the PEN Steven Kroll Award for Picture Book Writing, received a Kirkus Starred review, and favorable reviews from The Wall Street Journal, Publishers Weekly, The School Library Journal and other publications.

A storyteller, author, and recording artist, Lepp’s works have received awards and recognition from The Parents’ Choice Foundation, The National Parenting Publications Assoc., and the Public Library Association. In 2011, Bil was awarded the National Storytelling Network’s Circle of Excellence Award. Lepp has been featured 15 times at the National Storytelling Festival, and performed at major storytelling festivals, at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, and at corporate events and functions across the country. He performed at Comedy Central’s Stage on Hudson in Los Angeles, CA.

For more about Bil Lepp, visit





Georgia Humanities

"This project is supported by Georgia Humanities, in partnership with the Georgia Department of Economic Development, through funding from the Georgia General Assembly."


Photos courtesy of Nathan Baerreis Photography.