A warmup appearance for storyteller Suzi Whaples

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 15, 2011

By Katie Scarvey
SALISBURY — Suzi Whaples, the featured storyteller for the Stories by the Millstream Festival today, warmed up her act Thursday night before an appreciative audience at the Rowan Public Library.
Whaples, who has been telling stories for 30 years, won a national storytelling championship in 1998. But her big break came last year when she was invited to be featured teller at the 2010 National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tenn. For a storyteller, that’s the big time.
When you’re featured at Jonesborough, “Doors open everywhere,” Whaples says.
Kay Stowe, an agent for popular storyteller Andy Offutt Irwin, was on hand last night to see her friend Whaples perform . It’s very unusual, Stowe says, for a performer to debut at the festival as a featured teller, as Whaples did. Most tellers have to perform — some for years — at the event’s “exchange place,” which is a sort of testing ground for tellers. But Whaples had impressed enough folks at an Ohio festival that she got to skip some steps.
She’s been invited back to the Jonesborough festival this year as a Teller in Residence.
Whaples, who considers herself an Appalachian storyteller, hails from West Virginia, a state with a string of mottoes, including “The Mountain State,” “Wild and Wonderful” and “Almost Heaven.” Whaples said she had T-shirts advertising all those mottoes but drew the line at getting a T-shirt with the motto proposed by the new governor: “Open for Business.”
Whaples’ sense of humor was on display in a story about her habit of wearing “thongs” at the beach, much to the consternation of her granddaughters — who weren’t picturing quite the same thing Whaples was.
Whaples loves to tell stories that have been passed down by family members, particularly her beloved Aunt Louise, who is 97.
One Aunt Louise story featured one of her childhood playmates, Norma Jean, and centers around the much-coveted “store-bought candy.” Norma Jean lived in a house that “smelled like lemon verbena, not brown beans,” had a China tea set and lots of dresses with bows to match and an indoor potty that sometimes prompted the young Louise to “go when she really didn’t have to.” As the story progresses, it becomes clear that the example of both Norma Jean and another playmate, Whiplash Joe, have taught Louise some important lessons about friendship.
Fred Whaples, a pastor in Concord, came with his two sons to hear his mother at the library. He says that most people don’t know his mother’s intriguing back story, about how she overcame having an alcholic father and barely graduating from high school to become a sought-after performer.
Whaples will bring her distinctive brand of warmth, wisdom and humor to Rowan County second-graders this morning at Sloan Park during the 12th annual Stories at the Millstream Festival.
You can visit suziwhaples.com if you’d like more information about her.