Sean Buvala caught up with Emmy(tm)-Award-Winning storyteller and entertainer Bobby Norfolk. They connected at the 2014 National Storytelling Network Summer Conference in Mesa, Arizona. In this brief storyteller podcast, Sean and Bobby talk about new projects, the power of books and stories to choose their audience and a bit about the challenges of telling stories to audiences via translator.
You can hear the entire interview in the link ("Part One") below the transcript. .
VoiceOver: (music) You've just entered the Storyteller.net Amphitheater.(music fades)
Sean Buvala: Hey, Sean Buvala at the National Storytelling Network 2014 Conference in my home state of Mesa. Home state of Mesa? Home state of Arizona in the city of Mesa. Bobby is trying to be polite and not laugh at me. (laughs). I am talking to Bobby Norfolk. You have some new projects coming up that we were just talking about. You have your memoirs coming out, so, tell me about that.
Bobby Norfolk: I was actually "sent to school" by some young kids at a middle school, some advanced learners, in Springfield, Illinois. They kept asking me three years ago if I had done chapter books, if I had a memoir out yet. I said, "No." I had neither. They said, "you really need to do that, Mr. Norfolk." And so, I started filling up legal pads, and buying number-two pencils and medium-point ink pens. I was writing down all my childhood memories, my travels as a professional storyteller, and then creating, sort of, a texture of my childhood, my teenage years, my years as a black militant in the late sixties, early seventies. Then, writing travels as a storyteller. Because we have had two glitches in getting the book out, I've now added to that book from 150 pages to 250 pages. (laughs) So, I just can't sit still.
SB: These projects just keep going...
BN: Just adding more stories.
SB: (laughs) Yeah, I understand that. So, that's coming out through Parkhurst Brothers....
BN:....Parkhurst Brothers, we're looking at January 2015 release....
SB: ....so January, okay, that is good. You are also working on traveling....to Taiwan? Tell me about that.
BN: Taipei, Taiwan. It is a gig that is coming up in late August through early September.
SB: Oh, sure. Yeah...
BN: ...and the challenge is to slow all my stories down and talk the "Queen's English".....
SB: I am so with you on that, I understand, yes.
BN: (laughs) So, it is even more daunting for me being a physical storyteller to slow my movement down as well as my pacing vocally.
SB: A lot of the stuff that you do really relies on pacing, too.
BN: It does.
SB: So, what an interesting....have you had any practice sessions yet? (laughs)
BN: (laughs) Sherry and I have been practicing daily. (both laugh) We don't want to go into this thing blindly.
SB: Noo... We did a book a while ago through Storyteller.net called "How to be a Storyteller." Dr. Tossa, from I think from the Philippines, and if I got that wrong she might hit me, (Editor's note: Dr. Tossa is from Thailand), she wrote a whole article about, did a whole section of the book, on working with translators and that whole process...and how the longer they work together the more they grow and the more they get in sync together, stuff like that. So, I will have to see if I have a copy of that laying around and I will get that to you. It really was a great article. She works with, umm, Dr. Margaret Read MacDonald.
SB: So that is kind of how I got that connection. So, she talked all about, all about that type of work. You know, you, if I remember correctly, you came to this storytelling thing, not only through your personal history, but really kind of began working as a park ranger.
SB: Can you talk about that a little bit?
BN: I was a National Park Service ranger at the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. That was my first real job after graduating from University of Missouri St. Louis. I though this was my career highlight, to be a National Park ranger. I went to the Grand Canyon, Arizona to Camp David, Maryland for training. I went to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. All of sudden, after three years of being a park ranger, the St. Louis Storytelling Festival started. They organizers were looking for a venue to bring in hundreds of people. The venue they chose was the museum where I worked under the Arch. So, they brought in some of the best storytellers from Jonesborough, Tennessee.
BN: So, I tell people I didn't seek storytelling, it sought me.
SB: Yeah, isn't that interesting how sometimes these....I mean there are so many ways to be a storyteller. I was talking to Carolyn Stearns about this earlier. That- it finds us, doesn't it?
BN: It does, it does. Same thing when I go into a bookstore...sometimes I look for book titles, sometimes those titles find me. I just go on automatic pilot. All of a sudden, my intuition will say look down to your left, third shelf down. The book...not that I was looking for....the book that I need....
SB: ....the book that you need. Isn't that a part of what we do as storytellers, is....I often tell people that we are not responsible for the interpretation of our work.
SB: That, we put it out there and people are going to take what they are going to take. They come up to you afterwards and they say things like, "Oh, that meant...." Did you ever have any....
BN: Oh, yeah...
SB: "...that meant..." and you go, "What?" (laughs) "I am so glad for you."
BN: (laughs) "...there was some nuances in there that I didn't expect...."
SB: When you think about the career that you have had...you have been at this for decades, as many of us have now that our art form matures. Do you have stand-out moments that...things that make you say, "This was, this is when knew that I was where I was supposed to be, that there was these"....Anything subtle or big, whatever...?
BN: Yes, definitely. As a matter of fact, it.....those types of things are in the memoir. These things are, basically, you can't make this stuff up. You can't make this stuff up in a John Grisham novel. (laughs) So, I say I must put this in print. The truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. That it is not just some sort of adage that some people say lightly. I've experienced some things that I think other people need to experience and others have experienced but they may think that we may not want to tell people this because they think we may be loony.
SB: There are those metaphysical moments, of those transcended, those transcendent moments of....
SB: Hey, Bobby Norfolk, it is has been great talking to you. Thanks for taking time out today. I appreciate it.
BN: My pleasure, sir.
SB: That's great....
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