Blue Mountain College received a treat on Friday, February 21st, when storyteller Diane Williams spoke at the Mississippi Philological Association conference. The conference featured many outstanding writers, but Williams’ presentation was the height of the weekend. For nearly an hour, she delighted the audience with her vibrant personality and entertaining stories, drawing everyone in to the world of folktales.
In her presentation, Williams explained how the majority of the folktales in Mississippi are actually original German tales that Mississippians have altered, inserting contemporary ideas and characters to make them their own. To illustrate this, she told several familiar stories, but with creative twists. First came “The Three Little Pigs”, in which Alexander T. Wolf just wants some sugar for his grandmother’s birthday cake. He goes to each little pig’s house and asks for some, but after they refuse, his allergies start acting up and he sneezes, with the result that the houses come down. In the end, the third pig calls the police, and a vicious rumor spreads and slanders the poor wolf’s name.
Williams told several more stories like this, including a retelling of the classic fairytale “Cinderella”. She also read a version of “’Twas the Night Before Christmas”, written in a South Carolinian dialect known as “Gullah”, and concluded the evening with a story of her own creation that explains why she tells stories.
“I think books take us to those beautiful places,” Williams said later, “and let us know there’s another world out there beyond whatever we’re going through.” Her stories are truly a pleasurable escape from the chaotic lifestyles many of us lead.
Williams has been telling stories like this since 1992. Her career began when she met a national storyteller named Mary Carter Smith, who served as her mentor for almost twenty years. (Ms. Smith is commemorated in the Black Wax Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.) But her narrating skills aren’t limited to spoken words. “I’m a fiber artist,” she stated. “I can tell stories, whether they’re concrete or abstract stories, through the creation of designs.” She does this specifically through quilt-making, using her art to take her stories to another level and make statements in a powerful way.
Williams has been a storyteller from her childhood. “My sister tells me I always read stories to her,” she remembered. As her last story of the night illustrated, storytellers are those who just can’t stay silent about what they hear. Diane Williams is one such person, who has learned the art of taking what she knows and spinning it to enchant anyone who hears her.