By Robin Street
Adjunct Instructional Assistant Professor of Integrated Marketing Communications
An Oxford woman has won the Grand Master Storyteller trophy for an unprecedented second time.
Lifelong Oxford resident Kaye Bryant, 85, became the only person to win the award twice since the sponsoring organization “Spillit” (pronounced Spill It) began. After winning in 2021, she successfully defended her title in the 2022 Grand Slam storytelling event in Memphis on Nov. 18, receiving the whimsical prize of an eight-ball trophy.
“After listening to some really good storytellers, I was shocked to win again,” Bryant said. “Any one of them could have been a winner.”
The story Bryant told was about her experiences growing up in Oxford with her maiden name of Hooker, including the time she unknowingly spelled out her last name on the back of her car with reflector tape before learning of the name’s dual meaning.
At the Grand Slam, Bryant competed with 12 other storytellers, all about half her age. The winner was chosen by audience vote. She was the only storyteller to receive a standing ovation from the audience.
“She naturally connects to her audience,” said Josh Campbell, host and creative director of “Spillit.” “Her stories are instant comfort food for our troubled times. It probably is an unfair advantage that she instantly reminds everyone of their grandmother or even better their cool, chic great-aunt.”
Bryant’s daughter Julie Fanton, who won the Oxford competition in 2022 but chose not to compete in the Grand Slam, was in the audience.
“There were lots of great stories, but Mom’s delivery really set her apart,” Fanton said.
Bryant’s daughter-in-law Lisa Towery and grandson Patrick Towery also attended.
“She is a natural and the crowd loved her, recognized by their standing ovation,” Lisa Towery said. “Her story was interesting, funny, the truth and her delivery was spot on.”
Patrick Towery was proud of his grandmother.
“She made us all laugh multiple times throughout her storytelling, and cheer a few times too,” he said. “Her performance is a combination of polished and genuine. She stands among some of the greatest storytellers I have had the privilege of listening to in my life.”
The “Spillit” organization, based in Memphis, holds qualifying events called Slams throughout the year to tell “true, unscripted stories in front of a live audience,” says their website. Winners of those events then compete in the Grand Slam championship. As this year’s Grand Slam winner, Bryant will be expected to return for a third time to defend her title.
Bryant originally won the Oxford Slam, co-sponsored by the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council in 2021. The Yoknapatawpha Arts Council will once again sponsor the Oxford competition in August 2023.
For more information on “Spillit,” visit spillitmemphis.org.