Stone Soup: Storytelling in South Carolina

Long before there was writing, there was storytelling--oral traditions passed down for the purpose of educating, imparting morals, and preserving culture. The tradition of storytelling lives on around the world, kept alive here in the U.S. largely through storytelling festivals, like the Stone Soup festival in Woodruff.

Stone Soup was founded in 1986 by two librarians, Dixie Page and Judy Wyatt, and with the exception of two years during a change in leadership, the festival has gone on every year since then. In 1989, Stone Soup was made the official storytelling festival of South Carolina.

During those two years when the festival wasn't held and the organization was floundering, there was some talk of moving the festival to Greenville--but the bylaws of the organization stipulate that Woodruff is and will be the home of the festival. Karyn Page-Davies, who lives in Woodruff and who, along with her husband, is very actively involved in her local community, didn't want to see Stone Soup wither and die on the vine, so she stepped in and became the chair of the volunteer committee that oversees the festival.

That was in 2006, and that year there was a one-day mini-festival before returning the following year to the customary two-day event, which typically features eight professional national and regional storytellers at various events and an amateur "Story Slam" competition in which youth and adults compete for prizes.

Additionally, there are a 5K and a cycling event in conjunction with the event to raise funds to support the festival, but also to draw in an audience that might not normally attend a storytelling event. Page-Davies says, "Our thought was, after you've run a 5K, you might want to just sit down for a while and hear a story!"

Page-Davies is emphatic in her belief that storytelling and literacy are linked, and indeed, there is a large body of academic research to back that up. She would love to see storytelling in South Carolina schools to expose children to those positive educational benefits.

Originally called simply Stone Soup Festival, the group has recently undergone a name change to Stone Soup Storytelling Institute, to reflect a focus on expanding the reach of storytelling. Still in its infancy, the institute hopes to offer more events and workshops than just the April festival.

The first such event was a workshop held during the festival this year that discussed incorporating stories into corporate, education, and hospital settings. Page-Davies tells about a storyteller who involved Alzheimer's patients in creating their own stories and the positive impact it had on those patients. "These are the kinds of things I want us to do with the institute," she says.

And she has a big vision for what Stone Soup can become. "When the National Storytelling Festival started [in Jonesborough, TN]," she says, "it was started with just 15 people. Now it brings in $3 to 5 million every year, and it has contributed to the growth of Jonesborough. There are restaurants and businesses there that are there because of the festival."

As the national festival has gotten bigger, it has actually helped smaller festivals like Stone Soup. People who travel to Jonesborough for the festival have to plan a couple of years in advance in order to have a place to stay--and so they look to the smaller, more regional festivals as an alternative.

"We keep our festival very family friendly, including making it affordable," Page-Davies says. "A family ticket price for the two days is just $20, no matter the size of the family, and we try to get storytellers who appeal to a variety of ages."

The festival is April 25-26 of next year, but between now and then, the Institute will be working to raise funds and flesh out just how they will promote their mission of "literacy, communication, and diversity."

Sharon Purvis is a freelance writer and editor who makes her home with her husband in Duncan, South Carolina. You can find more of her work at