There's a motif in several European fairy tales, where a sister has to rescue her brothers from a supernatural fate (such as their transformation into geese, or ravens), by remaining silent for a lengthy period, say, seven years, seven months, and seven days. Often, the consequences of remaining silent bring her hardship and grief, and in some stories she digs a hole in the earth, and into this hole releases a torrent of emotions in words and sobs. She must then cover the hole, and bury her emotions, so that no one will know that she has broken her silence.
Sometimes I think of storytelling conferences in this way.
Conference attendees gather from all over, get together to speak, but the logistics of the conference are such that if you weren't there, you'd never know that anything was said. For all intents and purposes, the conference covered over the hole where the discussion went on.
I don't envision gatherings of storytellers as sharing of grief, though. So the other vision I have is that of Fight Club. Or maybe a conference of ninjas. The attendees think of themselves as a secret brother and sisterhood, with knowledge to share among each other, but not to those outside the secret club.
Now I've been to some of these conferences. I've learned a lot at them, networked a lot, met some great people, seen some terrific stuff happen as a result of conversations that started at these conferences. I'm not knocking storytelling conferences per se.
I am knocking their dissemination and distribution.
I can think of a lot of historical reasons why storytelling conferences didn't publish proceedings, probably many related to logistics and money (i.e. no papers to publish (because the focus was not academic), there not being enough financial incentive to record and distributed keynotes).
That's all changed. The barriers to entry for publication and distribution have fallen dramatically with the advent of the World Wide Web.
Ten years ago, Story, from fireplace to cyberspace : connecting children and narrative (1998), a conference of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's Allerton Park Institute published its proceedings as a journal. Nice to see that they've released all the contents digitally... so you can read what presenters like Anne Shimojima, Janice Del Negro, Joseph Sobol and Karen Morgan said there. (Link)
I can't find a single storytelling conference since then that has done the same. Online? In print? Anything? It's been ten years. (Please-- someone, anyone-- correct me! Show me I'm wrong!)
In 2007, I was not able to attend the National Storytelling Network's National Conference, held in July. In October, I inquired about obtaining a copy of a recording of a keynote. It took months for anything to happen (An audio of the keynote was, for a brief time, made available for sale. It is not currently). For that 2007 conference, the text of the keynote by Ron Turner is publicly available via the Web (link) for anyone to read. The text of the keynote by Jo Radner is publicly available via the journal Storytelling, Self, Society. (And good luck trying to get a hold of a copy of that particular issue of that particular journal if you're not an academic).
In 2008, Eric Wolf brought his own recording equipment to his panel discussion at the National Storytelling Conference and released the audio of the entire session on the Web as an mp3 file, under a Creative Commons license. I can't find any evidence that any other part of the conference is available, in text or in audio.
(BTW, Eric Wolf is singlehandedly doing the work of a national storytelling advocacy organization: via his podcast, he is disseminating discussion and insights from a wide variety of respected practicioners to an international audience. For free.)
<Oops. Left out a significant source of conference coverage and interviews on the Web: Storyteller.net. See comments, below.
With the economy what it is these days, I'm predicting that there will be fewer people in attendance at storytelling conferences this year. That makes it even more essential that these gatherings make an effort to share and disseminate widely the goings on.
I'm attending a storytelling conference next month. I had hoped to encourage liveblogging and twittering during my session. Turns out my room will not have WiFi coverage (although, there may be cell phone access if anyone wants to text out). I will be blogging from the conference.
Coming up in future posts: I'm going to look at various storytelling conferences held in 2009 across North America and rate them on their accessibility for those who could not be there in attendance. (I'll likely look at both accessibility during the conference (via blog posts and Twitter), and dissemination afterwards (via their own websites, YouTube, blogs, Storytell, etc)-- let me know in the comments if there is a metric you think I should track)