Liars, Damn Liars, and Storytellers

Essays on Traditional and Contemporary Storytelling

  • Author(s): Sobol, Joseph
  • Series:
  • Imprint: University of Tennessee Press
  • Publication Date: 2020-09-03
  • Status: Active
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Joseph Sobol is one of a select few contemporary scholar-practitioners to chart the evolution of storytelling from traditional foundations to its current multifarious presence in American life. The years since his classic The Storytellers’ Journey: An American Revival (1999), have brought seismic shifts in storytelling circles. Essays gathered here move between cultural history, critical analysis, and personal narratives to showcase the efforts of traditional and contemporary storytellers to make their presence felt in the world.

The book begins with an account of recent changes in the storytelling landscape, including the growth of a new generation of urban personal storytelling venues sparked by The Moth. Next is a suite of essays on Appalachian Jack tales, the best-known cycle of traditional American wonder tales, and an account of its most celebrated practitioners, including close encounters with the traditional master, Ray Hicks. The next set examines frames through which storytellers capture truth—historical, legendary, literary, oral traditional, and personal. Stylistic differences between northern and southern tellers are affectionately portrayed, with a special look at the late, much-loved Alabaman Kathryn Tucker Windham.

The final section makes the case for informed critical writing on storytelling performance, through a survey of notable contemporary storytellers’ work, a look at the ethics of storytelling genres, and a nuanced probe of truth and fiction in storytelling settings. A tapestry of personal stories, social criticism, and artistic illuminations, Liars, Damn Liars, and Storytellers is valuable not only to scholars and students in performance, folklore, cultural studies, and theater, but also to general readers with a love for the storytelling art.


JOSEPH SOBOL is a professor of storytelling in the Faculty of Creative Industries at University of South Wales, Cardiff, and director of the George Ewart Evans Centre for Storytelling. He previously led the graduate program in storytelling at East Tennessee State University.