Storyteller role a new chapter in woman's life

Retiree revives once-lost art in this area

By Jonathan Namath • Special to • November 8, 2008

• Mary Lou Williams performs at Kelly Greens Golf and Country Club.
(Jonathan Namath/Special to


Mary Lou Williams' voice had the full attention of all 30 people in the activities room at Kelly Greens Golf and Country Club.

Eyes and jaws were wide open at times. Williams had audience members feeling as if they were on the edge of their seats as the storyteller shared some of her favorite Halloween-related tales.

Williams, 75, has been grabbing the attention of audiences of all ages as a storyteller for almost three years.

After retiring, Williams plan was to give speeches on nutrition. She joined the group Toastmasters, which helps people improve public speaking and leadership skills.

"While I was involved with Toastmasters, everyone liked my storytelling more than my nutritional lectures," Williams said. "I chose storytelling because I love stories. I love telling them to kids. When I was kid I loved to be told stories."

Williams' passion for storytelling has always been present but she found out here was a storytelling world of its own out there in 1993.

"I went to Boone, N.C., and heard this woman who had a Ph.D. in Appalachia folklore," Williams said. "She was a fantastic storyteller."

Williams learned more about storytelling taking hold in Jonesboro, Tenn.


"Every year during the first weekend of October they have a national storytelling festival," Williams said. "The first one in 1973 had 60 people. Today the event draws between 10,000 and 15,000 people."

Williams credits events like the festival for creating a renaissance of storytelling.

"It became a lost art with the mass media," Williams said. "Storytelling became a means by which all groups educated their children, preserved their history and entertained themselves."

Williams said there is a storytelling association or guild in every state. She said there are over 200 storytelling festivals held each year in the United States.

Williams entertains residents of retirement communities and groups all over Southwest Florida.

Last year Williams had 40 performances.

Her stories cover a variety of themes such as Halloween, Christmas, St. Patrick's Day, and she even offers up four "fractured fairy tales."

"The fractured fairy tales are classic tales that I change and give a modern twist and perspective to for my audience."


Residents at Kelly Greens were treated to Williams' Halloween tales while she donned a witch outfit.

Williams shared several stories. She shared "The Monkey's Paw," which is a supernatural tale about a magical monkey's paw that grants three wishes to a new owner of the paw.

"An Appalachian Romeo and Juliet" is about couples who are bitter enemies and they escape to a cabin in the Appalachian mountains where a tragedy awaits.

The audience was buzzing after Williams' performance.

Williams has 24 stories that are performance ready. She's working on six more.

The teller of tales said putting a story together is a tedious task.

"I have to write them, learn them, and then bring the story to life," Williams said. "Sometimes it can take an entire year to develop a story."

Williams said anyone can be a storyteller if they have a passion and desire to do it. She enjoys captivating her audience and has no plans of slowing down.

"I'll keep doing it as long as I'm able to walk and talk," Williams said. "There's a woman at the festival in Tennessee and she has a tent that is always filled. She holds 1,500 people in the palm of her hand. She's a superstar and that's what I want to be when I grow up."