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Storyteller Donald Davis visits Shepherdstown

By Staff | Sep 21, 2018

From left, Jim West, of Shepherdstown, talks to storyteller Donald Davis after the Speak Story Series event ended Tuesday evening. Photo by Tabitha Johnston.

SHEPHERDSTOWN — Sporting a dapper pair of black-and-white saddle shoes, a floral bow tie and circular, orange spectacles, acclaimed author and storyteller Donald Davis commanded the microphone at Reynolds Hall in Shepherdstown on Tuesday night, as this month’s featured storyteller in the Speak Story Series.

Founded by Shepherdstown-based storyteller Adam Booth six years ago, the Speak Story Series features a nationally- or internationally-renowned storyteller on the second Tuesday of every month, with the goal of featuring a variety of storytellers with uniquely different stories.

And no less unique than any of the other storytellers is Davis.

Although Davis is now a full-time storyteller, for many years, he was a United Methodist minister. Many of his stories during the evening reflected on his time as a member of the cloth in the Appalachian Mountains.

“I was sent back to a little church in the farthest corner of North Carolina — Cherokee, North Carolina,” Davis said, mentioning he got to know the unique personalities of the local residents well during his six years at the post.

One lady in particular, a reclusive former high school teacher who refused her pension checks because she believed she “hadn’t worked for them,” made a lasting impression on him and his view of the world.

“I learned so much from that dear, sweet old lady,” Davis said about Katherine Morton. “I learned that I will never in my life be so poor that I will not be able to take care of myself. And I learned that it’s okay to be weird — she taught me about the illusion of being normal.”

Although Davis learned a lot from the people he met over the years, he said he often forgot about past churches when he moved on to a new post.

“Too often after we move, we forget things. I keep on remembering other memories,” Davis said, mentioning that his new and old memories have helped him keep his storytelling alive.

Time has also played a role in how his stories continue to change.

“A story is a living thing — it keeps on growing and changing. It’s like moving a painting from one room to another — it looks completely different in a new context,” Davis said.

“There are stories that I have been telling for 40 years, and the difference between how I told them then and how I tell them now is the difference from me being 35 and 75. All kinds of things do change — you change along the way and you learn new things about your family,” Davis said, referring to other stories he told during the evening about his childhood. “The whole matrix of the story changes.”

Earlier in the day, Davis spoke about the art of storytelling to students at Spring Mills High School, using a curriculum he previously developed with a group of teachers, called “Made It, Tell It, Write It.”

To learn more about the Speak Story Series, which is part of Shepherd University’s Appalachian Studies Program, visit www.speakstoryseries.com/.