Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Oxford Woman Named Grand Master Storyteller

By Robin Street

Adjunct Instructional Assistant Professor of Integrated Marketing Communications

Kaye Bryant received an Elvis-style cape and a trophy topped with a wind-up red chatter mouth for winning the “Spillit” Grand Slam storytelling event in Memphis on Nov. 13.  Photo by Stan O’Dell

An Oxford woman, long known as a great storyteller by her family and friends, now has a trophy to prove it.

Lifelong Oxford resident Kaye Bryant, 84, was named Grand Master Storyteller after winning the “Spillit” (pronounced Spill It) Grand Slam storytelling event in Memphis on Nov. 13.

She received the whimsical prizes of an Elvis-style sequined cape and a trophy topped with a wind-up red chatter mouth.

For Bryant, the experience of telling her story on stage in front of a live audience was delightful.

“Being on stage for me is like an energy shot,” Bryant said. “I am so happy with a microphone in my hand.”

Kaye Bryant on stage at the “Spillit” Grand Slam storytelling event in Memphis. Photo by Stan O’Dell

The “Spillit” organization, based in Memphis, allows people to enter qualifying events called Slams to tell “true, unscripted stories in front of a live audience,” according to their website. The stories, which come from the storyteller’s life, can be about a specific event or a lifelong tale.

Winners of those events go on to compete in the Grand Slam championship. Bryant won the Oxford Slam, co-sponsored by the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council, last summer.

At the Grand Slam, Bryant competed with 10 other storytellers, including two former Grand Slam winners, all about half her age. Each storyteller was limited to seven minutes. The winner was chosen by audience vote.

“I was honored to be selected from some truly amazing storytellers,” Bryant said.

Bryant was accompanied to the event by her daughter, Julie Fanton.

“Mama is an old-fashioned tale spinner and had the audience in the palm of her hand from the moment she stepped on stage,” Fanton said.

The story Bryant told at both events was on a seemingly sad subject of being struck by a car as the driver backed out of his spot in the Kroger parking lot. But in Bryant’s hands, the story became comedic as she mimicked the reactions from the unnamed attorney driving the car and from her friend who accompanied her. Bryant was not seriously injured in the accident.

Josh Campbell is the host and creative director of “Spillit.”

“I think Kaye won (the Grand Slam) because she has a great presence and a charming personality,” Campbell said. “She instantly connected with the audience. She also told a relatable story. I mean, who doesn’t hate the Kroger parking lot?”

Wayne Andrews, executive director of the YAC, said the Oxford Slam event has been going on for five years, usually in August. He won in 2018.

“What I like about the contest is that the stories you hear at an event like this cover a wide range of experiences and it really creates a sense of community,” Andrews said.

As this year’s Grand Slam winner, Bryant will be expected to return next year to defend her title.

For more information on “Spillit,” visit spillitmemphis.org.

For more information on the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council, visit oxfordarts.com.


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