Beaufort storyteller Cora Newcomb turned love of the art into a career

jpaprocki@islandpacket.comJuly 13, 2012 

  • Summer Storytelling with Cora Newcomb is at 7:30 p.m. July 14 and 28 at ARTworks. Admission is $5.

    Details: 843-379-2787, www.artworksinbeaufort.org

Cora Newcomb started telling stories not as a performer but as a parent.

She'd weave together tales of mothers and daughters to put her little girl to sleep at nights always conjuring and elaborating to please her child's imagination. She soon developed a genuine interest in storytelling as art.

Almost 20 years later, she's part of a storytelling revival in the Lowcountry. She's president of the S.C. Storytelling Network and a founder of the Lowcountry Storytellers organization. She participated in the inaugural Beaufort Intergalactic Storytelling Festival earlier this year. She'll also perform at ARTworks twice this month.

"The Lowcountry has a great tradition of storytelling," ARTworks executive director J.W. Rone said. "It's a small but dedicated group of people like Cora who are invested in telling stories."

When Newcomb first got serious, she ordered cassettes of popular tales from a national storytelling organization. At the time, she wasn't even sure storytelling was a profession, much less one that required a trade group.

"Really?" she thought. "People make a living telling stories?"

Newcomb, who's also a professor at the Technical College of the Lowcountry, first performed a story at the Beaufort Water Festival Talent Show. The story was about a young girl uncomfortable with her freckles, a take on a story she'd heard another professional do. She got a good reception, developing a taste for performing and interacting with an audience. She started performing at libraries and senior centers. She'd get hired for birthday parties. Before she knew it, she was making money as a storyteller.

Since then, she's banded together with other storytellers. She started the Lowcountry Storytellers with Barb Ashley, known as Yostie the Puppeteer. The group serves as a place for local storytellers to come together to try out new stories or discuss upcoming festivals or similar news. The group has collaborated with Charleston's Backporch Storytellers for performances around Beaufort. Newcomb served as a judge at the BIG Storytelling Festival in March.

Her upcoming appearances at ARTworks serves to keep storytelling alive in Beaufort throughout the year, Rone said. The second annual storytelling festival is scheduled for April 2013. But before then, ARTworks plans for several more storytelling showcases, including the return of the popular Uncalled for Trio in December. ARTworks also plans to reach out in the community to help establish storytelling groups at libraries and schools.

The storytelling community seems small locally, but, as Newcomb can account for, the storytellers are out there. They just might not know it.

"There's so much storytelling in the Lowcountry," she said. "And so much of it is parents like me who were telling stories to their kids."

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