A 2023 National Storytelling Festival Preview
The idea to start telling stories came to Mo Reynolds in a dream.
Fast asleep, she watched as someone performed on a small stage in front of a black background. She woke up and knew she wanted to try it.
Reynolds had been born and raised in the American South, but had somehow missed that storytelling was a thing that other people were doing. After her auspicious dream, she started a YouTube channel under the vague impression that she’d invented a new form. At the time, she was working as a children’s librarian in Montana, so she had a collection of traditional tales at the ready.
Storytelling on YouTube was a perfect fit for a young mother with a background in theater. Reynolds had been yearning to return to the stage, but long rehearsals and extended engagements were out of the question, at least for a while. The venture was a modest success.
“I’m very big in Eureka, Montana,” she jokes.
Soon after that, Reynolds traveled to Jonesborough to check out the Storytelling Live program. Laura Simms was in residence that week, and watching the veteran performer helped Reynolds situate her own YouTube experiments in the context of a long tradition.
“It’s hard to know when I started storytelling because I’ve been talking to myself for a very long time,” Reynolds says. But if she had to pinpoint a starting point, it was probably soon after that vacation in Jonesborough. She performed at an open mic at a storytelling festival in Florida, and a new direction for her career took off from there.
Her luck continued when Reynolds discovered her signature style soon before her first featured performance at a big event. Deciding between a personal story and a traditional tale, she had the epiphany that the genres weren’t mutually exclusive. She pulled out parallel themes and began weaving bits and pieces of her own life into old familiar stories.
“When I pair a personal story with a folk or fairy tale that has been around for hundreds or thousands of years, I can see my own story couched in something more ancient and universal,” she says. “Braiding them together helps me see my own stories in a different light.”
Reynolds’s Jonesborough debut was at the National Storytelling Festival’s Exchange Place last year. She’s very excited to bring new stories to the big stage this year as a New Voice.
She has come to see her braided tales as a useful reminder of the universal experiences we share across time and cultures—a powerful demonstration of human connection.
“People are just like walking layers of stories,” she says. “But sometimes we have difficulty seeing our stories and the stories of other people. We objectify other people and we boil them down to a bumper sticker or a t-shirt or something simplistic and one-dimensional.
“When we step back and look at the layers of stories — even when someone is different from us or has very different ideals — there’s something in them that makes sense.”
While Reynolds still occasionally shares original tall tales, she generally avoids straightforward personal narratives. (“That’s just too much Mo.”) Her braided tales, which she plans to share as a New Voice at the 2023 National Storytelling Festival, allow her to take what had been deeply personal experiences and tap into a kind of collective consciousness.
“It expands the vision into something the whole word has walked with,” she says. “Suddenly, it feels bigger.”
Mo Reynolds is the third featured teller in our New Voice series, a preview of the 51st Annual National Storytelling Festival. Catch up on the series with our features on storytellers Jasmin Cardenas and Paul Strickland, and watch for two more profiles next month. We hope you’ll join us for the Festival in Jonesborough October 6–8, 2023.