Celebrate good words
Chico Tellabration to celebrate storytelling while raising money for homeless youth
The Greek poet Homer is considered an early force in Western literature, though it’s debatable whether he wrote down a single word of his epics or even existed, with some historians believing he was himself the figment of another storyteller’s imagination.
For tens of thousands of years before written language and art came about, humanity relied on oral tradition for generational knowledge, entertainment and communication. Storytelling may be the oldest art form created by man, and in the last few years—with the popularity of spotlights on the form like NPR shows The Moth Radio Hour and Snap Judgment—it’s come back into vogue.
Celine O’Malley is a local storyteller dedicated to spreading and strengthening storytelling as a performance art. O’Malley has partnered with the Butte County Office of Education’s School Ties program to present Chico Tellabration, a storytelling event benefiting Chico’s 6th Street Center for Youth.
The Chico event is one of the National Storytelling Network’s annual Tellabration celebrations, which take place all over the world on or around the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Originating in 1988, the events are meant to be benefits, either for local storytelling guilds or nonprofit service organizations, and are focused on helping build community among storytellers and the people who love them.
Locally, Tellabration will be held Sunday, Nov. 16. After a dinner catered by Spice of Life, local storytellers Rosemary Quinn, Baba Kauna, Kyle Bowen (who has appeared on Snap Judgment), O’Malley and others will perform, followed by live music. The theme is Fall Tales: Stories of Transition and Transformation, and some of the youth who use 6th Street’s services also will tell stories.
“I’m really excited about storytelling and the issue of homelessness converging here, and having storytelling be a way for the homeless to get their voices heard through their stories,” O’Malley said. “The most powerful way to reach someone is through a story and I think that, for some people who might be closed off or have some boundaries with the homeless community in Chico, storytelling is a great way to get past those boundaries.”
Jennifer Barzey, program manager at the 6th Street Center for Youth, said she admired how O’Malley got the center’s youths involved, by hosting a series of storytelling workshops and open mics there leading up to the event.
For O’Malley, storytelling reminds her of her own youth.
“I grew up hearing a lot of stories,” O’Malley said. “My dad’s side of the family is Irish-American, and lots of storytelling just naturally happened in our house.”
She said she got serious about it three years ago, partly inspired by her aunt Eileen Hanna, a professional storyteller living in Eugene, Ore., who also will join the celebration. O’Malley still remembers her first off-the-cuff attempt at a story swap hosted by her aunt, an embarrassing childhood tale about her mistaking rabbit poop for “really cool pebbles” on a Girl Scout excursion.
O’Malley used to run a monthly Chico Story Slam event—and accompanying storytelling workshop—at 100th Monkey Cafe, and said she hopes Chico Tellabration helps unite storytellers and fans to strengthen the form locally. She said she’d like to start another monthly event to help storytellers develop and share their tales.
The 6th Street Center for Youth was founded six years ago and provides meal service, showers, laundry facilities, basic hygiene items and other resources to homeless and runaway youths, ages 14 to 24, on weekdays between 10:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. It also employs social workers who offer services including counseling, housing, employment and connection to other services.
Barzey said the center is having a record year in helping “members”—those who make regular use of the center—meet their goals. Thus far they’ve helped 31 young people find housing and 34 find jobs, more than in any previous year. Fundraising events like Chico Tellabration are essential to the center, she said, helping to fund valuable programs and raise awareness about homelessness.