October 5, 2022
We recently sat down with esteemed local storyteller and Story Center Certification graduate George Pettigrew to learn about his storytelling journey. George earned his Oral Storytelling Certification from The Story Center in December 2018 and his Written Storytelling Certification in 2019, but his interest and passion for storytelling started well before then!
Q. What sparked your interest in storytelling?
George: I have always loved stories. From early childhood tales, to the Boy Scouts, to young adulthood, and especially today, I love stories. Stories are a part of everyone's life and affect everything that makes us who we are. They shape a community and teach us about ourselves, forming goals and values, most importantly in our formative years. Stories are a part of everything we do, and a well-told story stays with you forever.
Q. How have your experiences and background impacted your storytelling journey?
George: As a child in the Scouts, I eagerly anticipated camping out to enjoy the spooky stories around an open campfire. My favorite story was “Raw Heads and Bloody Bones.” The excitement was so surreal that we never let the Scout Master finish that story because we were all too afraid to listen. Last year I found a hardback copy of that tale and others like it and bought the book. It sits on my living room coffee table today.
For as long as I can remember, my mother told me stories of her grandfather, a Buffalo Soldier. Young as I was, I imagined a soldier in uniform with a large buffalo head. In my mind, it was more a cartoon than anything real. Over the years, I listened more and more to my mother's stories and began asking questions of my own, completing the stories as I got older. The moment I realized that Buffalo Soldiers were real, the switch was thrown, and I was fully engaged. The idea of a story being true was an adventure come to life. Then I discovered that real stories are as amazing—if not more so—than any others, because they are real.
Q. How did you get involved in The Story Center's Certificate Program?
George: A cold February evening, I had just completed a Buffalo Soldier presentation with two other presenters. Leaving the Blue Springs South Branch, I picked up a copy of Beyond the Books and discovered that the storytelling certification was being offered at the Woodneath Library Center. I was actively presenting stories of the Buffalo Soldiers around Mid-Continent Public Library branches and instantly realized the value in this opportunity. And it's free! I went online and signed up for workshops and classes.
I have continued to remain in contact with The Story Center and support them in every way that I can. I spoke about the certification program at the Missouri Library Association, and this past July, I gave my first workshop as part of the Oral Storyteller Certification program.
Q. What did you find to be the most valuable part of The Story Center's offerings?
George: Whoever said that you can't get something for nothing is dead wrong. If value is determined by what you receive and what you gave for it, then The Story Center is invaluable! I'm not sure that you really can quantify its value in terms of its benefits. I have benefited from its value in ways I never imagined. I learned how to get out of a tight spot on stage—now there is nothing to fear. Also, how to add value to people's lives when you are the storyteller. And how to be an effective storyteller with confidence in your messaging and presentation.
Since I received my Storytelling Certifications, I have joined the Missouri Humanities Council Speakers' Bureau in 2019 through 2024 with the latest application approval. I serve with the Kansas City Veterans Writers Team, performed at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and for the National Park Service. My involvement with the Buffalo Soldiers as a storyteller and lifetime member has led to my serving in a leadership role to bring a re-imaged Frontier Army Museum to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. A museum is a great storyteller, and how you structure its stories matters to the success of the museum.
Q. What advice do you have for new or aspiring storytellers?
George: First of all, if you have some tips or advice, let me have them! We learn together and from one another at the same time—a force multiplier. That is the advantage of working on your craft with a purposeful group. And if you wonder if I would recommend The Story Center, the answer is definitely yes. The freedom to work at it on your time and schedule. You can take what you want or go for the certifications offered by The Story Center and Mid-Continent Public Library. The program is well structured and staffed to help you achieve your goals in storytelling.
Q. Why do you think storytelling is important?
George: When asked this question, my first reaction is silence. A storyteller being silent when asked about the importance of storytelling may seem odd, but it is a huge question. How would we communicate ideas and concepts without telling of its outcome? We retain more when learning from storytelling. Let's accept that we all tell stories, but the difference may be how effectively we communicate our stories.
Storytelling is in everything we do. Be your best at it.
Image credit: portrait of George Pettigrew by artist Essex Garner
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