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Storytelling’s ‘high priestess’ stirs memories

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of stories profiling the storytellers at the 24th annual Tale-Telling Festival, which begins tonight.

For a small woman, Kathryn Tucker Windham has a big presence.

That was evident before she even began speaking at the Selma-Dallas County Library’s monthly Lunch at the Library series Thursday. She was there to read from her new book, &uot;It’s Christmas.&uot;

They quickly complied.

With no one standing behind her and the room situated, Windham began to speak. As her words carried across the room, weaving together her memories of childhood Christmases into a lively narrative, all attention focused on her.

It was a magical, almost religious experience.

And that, Windham explained, is what storytelling is all about.

Born and raised in Thomasville, Windham is fiercely claimed and cherished by Selma. She graduated from Huntingdon College in Montgomery and became the first woman hired by the Alabama Journal.

She went on to work for The Birmingham News and The Selma Times-Journal, serving here as a reporter, city editor, state editor and associate editor.

Because of her storytelling prowess, she was invited to speak at the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesboro, Tenn. She continues to speak there to this day, and has traveled and spoken throughout the United States.

Long before the Los Angeles Times did its Pulitzer-award winning series of articles about the extent of the poverty in Gee’s Bend, Windham was recording the lives of the people who lived there in a book. And of course, there are the series of famous ghost stories starting with &uot;13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffery.&uot;

As Windham told the University of Alabama for their Communications Hall of Fame, storytelling is a way of saying &uot;I love you.&uot;

It means, she said, &uot;I love you enough to tell you something that means a great deal to me.&uot;

Jones said that the Tale-Telling Festival is Windham’s baby, that she is the center of the entire event.

Windham will be joined by Jim May and Barbara McBride-Smith as the three featured storytellers at this year’s festival.

The featured storytellers will perform tonight and Saturday beginning at 7 p.m. The Swappin’ Ground-A-Time, when everyone gets a chance to be a storyteller, will precede the main event and is scheduled for 5:30 p.m.