Carl Sandburg legacy is honored in a storytelling slam

LITERARY LEGACY: “The spoken word was such a large part of [Carl] Sandburg’s persona,” says Sarah Perschall, chief of visitor services at the Sandburg Home. “He always seemed to be out there speaking somewhere — at college lectures, on the radio and, during the last decade of his life, on television.” Photo of the writer, from January 1941, courtesy of the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site

**UPDATE: According to the Carl Sandburg Home website, “Due to the government shutdown, Perspectives: The Sandburg Story Slam has been cancelled and will not be held on January 13. There is no date to reschedule at this time.”**

“I am the people,” Carl Sandburg famously wrote in his 1916 collection, Chicago Poems. From the beginning of his nearly 70-year writing career, the eminent poet, folk singer and activist championed the common man and woman. As a journalist, he immortalized their collective experience. As a way to commemorate the poet’s birthday and legacy, the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site in Flat Rock will host its first community storytelling slam.

The free event, titled Perspectives: The Sandburg Story Slam, will take place Sunday, Jan. 6, at Blue Ridge Community College’s Bo Thomas Auditorium. The slam is a live storytelling competition and will feature 12 storytellers (names will be drawn on the day of the slam) sharing five-minute nonfiction stories.

Emceeing the Perspectives slam is Spartanburg, S.C.-based storyteller and musician Johnny Thomas Fowler. A recipient of the South Carolina John Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award, Fowler also co-hosts the old-time radio show “This Old Porch,” as well as hosting and producing the weekly storytelling series, “Word Stage.” Both can be heard on WNCW.

Fowler also helped assemble a panel of three judges, all of whom are noted regional storytellers in their own right. They are: David Joe Miller, who hosts the highly popular WORD! storytelling series at Pack Library; Raymond Christian, a podcaster and Moth storyteller; and Dianne Hackworth, a storytelling teacher at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown.

The participants will be judged on their original content, theme and purpose. Style, skill and audience appreciation are other elements the panel of judges are considering. First-, second- and third-place winners will leave with a cash prize.

“The spoken word was such a large part of Sandburg’s persona,” says Sarah Perschall, chief of visitor services at the Sandburg Home. In addition to his poetry, “the oratory tradition of storytelling was part of his story, as well. He always seemed to be out there speaking somewhere — at college lectures, on the radio and, during the last decade of his life, on television,” she says.

The theme of the story slam is Dream, which is also the theme of the 50th anniversary of the Sandburg Home as a unit of the National Park System, celebrated in 2018. Sandburg’s home officially became a national historic site in 1968, and the slam serves as the concluding event for the anniversary year. The inspiration for the theme originates from a line in the Sandburg poem “Washington Monument by Night.” In it, he writes, “nothing happens unless first a dream.” The line was chosen, in part, because of the hard work of those committed to preserving the Sandburg Home by designating it a national historic site. Today, employees and volunteers continue this mission.

“Without them, we wouldn’t be able to accomplish what we’re trying to with this national park,” Perschall says. “Without their continued participation and investment of time and energy, we just wouldn’t be here.”

As for the slam, the event will feature storytellers sharing tales of their actual dreams, personal achievements, pleasant surprises and aspirations thwarted by adversity. “Storytelling is just an entertaining way to learn about people’s lives and to learn histories,” says Perschall.

Through verse, song and prose, Sandburg explored the perspectives of everyday people and the places they lived. When Sandburg died in 1967, President Lyndon Johnson said, “Carl Sandburg needs no epitaph; it is written for all time in the fields, the cities, the face and heart of the land he celebrated and inspired.”

With Perspectives, the Sandburg Home hopes to continue the tradition of honoring stories of everyday people.

WHAT:Perspectives: The Sandburg Story Slam, nps.gov/carl
WHERE: Bo Thomas Auditorium, Blue Ridge Community College, 180 W Campus Drive, Flat Rock
WHEN: Sunday, Jan. 6, 2-4 p.m. Free

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2 thoughts on “Carl Sandburg legacy is honored in a storytelling slam

  1. Darcy

    The Story Slam has been rescheduled to the snow date of January 13 due to the government shutdown.
    If federal appropriations are not restored by January 13, the event will be cancelled.

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