Contest rewards local storytellers

By Da’Sha Tuck, Staff writer

WKMS, Murray State’s public radio station, hosted a short storytelling contest that yielded more than 50 entries, five finalists and one winning story: “What Allen Took” by Amanda Futrell from Murray.

Last week, all five finalists, Tony Smith from Paducah, Kentucky, Corrie Johnson from Murray, Daniel Milam from Paducah, Kentucky, and Tasha Mitchell from Dexter, Kentucky, read their stories at the Murray State Clara Eagle Gallery.

Finalist Corrie Johnson submitted a story titled “Come Back Anytime.” Her story was about a young girl working three jobs and “speeding through summer” until she meets an elder who teaches her a new way of looking at life through simple, silent, relaxing front porch sitting.

“I have always enjoyed writing since I was a child,” she said. “I have never studied it formally but I just write because I feel like it.”

Johnson’s story was based on true events and through that experience she said she learned a valued lesson.

“I learned how to slow down, get outside myself, value sitting with someone else, be welcomed by someone who had nothing in common with me and I learned how to extend that welcome to others,” Johnson said.

Johnson did not win the short storytelling contest but more of her work can be found at pigintheriver.blogspot.com.

Futrell’s first place story was titled “What Allen Took.”

The story is told from a mother’s point of view as her only child packs his bags for army basic training. Futrell describes the things the son packs, what he forgets to pack and what he leaves behind.

Futrell currently lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is getting her Master of Fine Arts at Vermont College of Arts in Poetry. She said her writing keeps her very busy.

“The thing that is consuming most of my time right now is a poetry collection called ‘What Goes With Her,’ a book about the life and death of my best friend of 23 years, Katy Koch, a Murray State graduate and previous Murray resident,” she said.

Futrell said if anyone reads “What Allen Took” and would like to read more of her work, it can be found at amandafutrell.wordpress.com.  The runner-up was Tony Smith with his story titled “Granaw’s Chicken”.

Smith’s story is about two brothers who are given a pair of chickens for Easter; one named Talon and the other Eagle. In the story, Smith describes how the mother of the two boys quickly grows tired of the chickens and sends them to live with “Granaw”, the boy’s great grandmother. The brothers soon lose interest in the chickens, eventually not being able to tell them apart from their grandmother’s other chickens.

Smith wrote about how Granaw cooked and served both Talon and Eagle to the family for supper one afternoon. Initially, the boys were distraught, but they quickly recovered in order to get their dessert.  Smith said the story was inspired by true events.

He said he has always been a “prolific reader” and began writing in his late teenage years. Smith said some of his influence for writing came from a family member who was a journalist. He said he stopped writing for a while because life became busy but now he has picked up where he left off.

“I was afraid to put my feelings on paper,” Smith said. “Not everything I write is about laughter; there are other sides to me.”

Smith said he plans to continue with his writing career, determined to get a story published. “Granaw’s Chickens” was the first story Smith had ever submitted in a contest.

“I might as well keep doing this (writing), what else do I have to do, I mean I can’t dance,” Smith said.

Both Futrell and Smith read their stories to an audience last week at Hopkinsville Brewing Company. Smith said the crowd was very receptive for both him and Futrell, but it was a new experience for him.

“I have never read one of my stories to a crowd like that before,” he said. “I was pretty nervous because it is supposed to be absorbed in the mind not the ears.”

Smith said his family and his life experiences are his story inspirations. He said growing up in the 1960s was an interesting experience because children were not as shielded as they are today. 

Tracy Ross, WKMS programming director said this year was the first time WKMS has hosted a short storytelling contest.

“This contest was a great success,” Ross said. “We had over 50 entries from various participants with stories that were straight fiction and others that followed classic storytelling format.”

Ross said they will be hosting this contest again next year. WKMS will announce more details in the summer months. Ross encourages anyone who did not submit a story this year to do so next year and he hopes those who participated will participate again. 

“Words are events, they do things, they change things,” Futrell said quoting novelist Ursula K. Guin.

“They transform both the speaker and the hearer; they feed energy back and forth and amplify it.”