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Speak Series storyteller finds humor in life’s ups and downs

By Staff | Jun 22, 2018

Courtesy photo Scott Whitehair, a Chicago-based storyteller, talks to the audience at the June 12 Speak Story Series event.

The Speak Story Series featured Chicago-based storyteller Scott Whitehair at Reynolds Hall on June 12.

The series, which is part of the Appalachian Studies Program at Shepherd University, features a nationally- or internationally-known storyteller on the second Tuesday of every month, April through November.

“This is a summer of storytelling. We have the Speak Story Series going on all summer,” said Sylvia Shurbutt, an English professor at Shepherd and coordinator of the Appalachian Studies program, as she opened the event. “It is really the brightest jewel in our crown of Appalachian Studies.

“The whole emphasis of Appalachian Studies is the power of storytelling, and our storyteller tonight, Scott, is going to be a brilliant storyteller,” Shurbutt said. “Scott is a wonderfully talented person. His stories move from heartbreaking to hilarious, and his independent monthly class has been sold out since 2012.”

Whitehair has taught storytelling on the collegiate level and has been featured on NPR, PBS and the Risk Podcast.

“It is an honor to get to tell you stories tonight,” Whitehair said. “We are all storytellers! My favorite theory was, after inventing fire, we sat around the fire and invented storytelling.”

Whitehair, whose father grew up in Morgantown before joining the Navy and raising his family in Pennsylvania, connected with the audience on a personal level as he discussed his childhood traumas and working-class upbringing.

Halfway through his performance, Whitehair took a break, encouraging audience members to pair up with a stranger within the audience and each tell the other person a two-minute story.

“You should do more storytelling – it’s good for you,” Whitehair said. “I think there’s no better sound than a room of people telling each other stories.”

Dottie McDonald, a retired Musselman High School English teacher of 40 years, has attended the Speak Story Series since its inception.

“Story telling and preserving family stories is important,” McDonald said. “If they aren’t written somewhere or repeated, they’re getting lost.”

After performing 45 minutes of storytelling, Whitehair answered audience questions about his friends’ opinion of his career path and story inspiration.

“A friend recently said, ‘It’s so nice to see people paying you for the things we kept telling you to stop doing as a kid,'” Whitehair said, laughing.

“Stories are everywhere. We have all these memories and material from life – you build this massive pile of experience,” he said. “Sometimes we think stories have to be dramatic moments, but no – one of my favorite stories is of a woman burning a pot pie.”