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Kentucky Folktales - Revealing Stories, Truths, and Outright Lies:
Work of Sound Fellow, Mary Hamilton

Berea Sound Fellow, Mary Hamilton's book of Kentucky folktales retold.

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Mary Hamilton / Frankfort, Kentucky / 2009-2010 / Topic: Folklore

Mary HamiltonProject: Mary Hamilton has been a professional storyteller since 1983. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards including the Jesse Stuart Award presented by the Kentucky School Media Association for her body of work telling stories in Kentucky schools.

Her Fellowship research made use of the sound recordings in Berea's Leonard Roberts Collection of Kentucky folklore, many of which date from the 1950s and 1960s. She compared and contrasted different versions of the same folktale collected from a variety of children and adults in southeastern Kentucky. Hearing how the stories were told provided insight into them that is not possible from reading printed text alone.

The primary outcome of her research was identification of stories for presentations in Kentucky schools, libraries, and  museums. Also accomplished were professional conference presentations, Kentucky Arts Council residencies, and "Kentucky Folktales: Revealing Stories, Truths, and Outright Lies" a book of Kentucky folktales retold.


Kentucky Storytelling proposes to collect folktales and stories that have been researched, revised, and perfected by Frankfort-based master storyteller Mary Hamilton. The work collects a range of stories from tall tales like "Some Dog" and "Otis Ayres Had a Dog," to true stories such as "Storm walker" and "Jeff Rides the Rides." Hamilton will annotate the stories where possible with information on sources, location, variants, and other details. Hamilton has painstakingly transcribed each story as she tells it herself, concluding each with notes on the genesis as well how the story evolved over time in response to audience reaction. For example, in the story "The Gingerbread Boy," in which a girl exacts revenge on an evil stepmother by eating a magical gingerbread cookie, Hamilton includes information from folklorist Leonard Roberts' original head notes, details which early version influenced her own telling, and notes how audiences react at certain points in the story. Although the stories can and will be enjoyed for their own merits, it is this commentary that will make the work a unique and valuable resource for scholars and professional storytellers. Kentucky Storytelling will join the Press's established list in regional folklore, adding Mary Hamilton's name to the list of giants in Appalachian and Kentucky storytelling that includes Ruth Ann Musick, Leonard Roberts, and William Lynwood Montell. The work will find an enthusiastic audience among lay readers as well as scholars and professionals with an interest in the art and craft of storytelling. Mary Hamilton, a professional storyteller since 1983, frequently performs at local, regional, and national storytelling festivals and conducts workshops throughout Kentucky on behalf of the Kentucky Arts Council. In 2009 she received the Circle of Excellence Oracle Award from the National Storytelling Network.