Finding the Center: The Art of the Zuni Storyteller

Finding the Center: The Art of the Zuni Storyteller

Finding the Center: The Art of the Zuni Storyteller

Finding the Center: The Art of the Zuni Storyteller


This second edition features three new Zuni stories, updated transcriptions of stories from the original edition, a bibliography, and a new preface and introduction.


Storytelling is a performing art. At Zuni and elsewhere, storytellers have at least as much in common with dramatists, actors, orators, and poets as they do with writers of prose fiction. The sounds they produce have often been transcribed and translated as prose, but there is much more to storytelling than assembling vowels and consonants into gray masses of words and sentences. It is not only words that give shape and movement to a story's characters and their actions, but the ways in which those words are voiced.

At some moments storytellers speak at just the right level to let everyone present hear their words clearly, but at other moments they may give a particular passage extra force by speaking loudly, or they may demand a more delicate kind of attention by speaking softly. Sometimes they produce the wavelike rises and falls of pitch that mark the beginnings and ends of ordinary sentences, but there are other times when they separate pitches into the terraced levels of a chanting voice. There may even be passages where they break into song.

The language of storytelling does not emerge in long paragraphs, but in lines like those of plays or free verse. This is where timing comes into play, as performers vary the pace of a story by producing longer and shorter periods of sound and silence. They may pause neatly between sentences, or let an unfinished sentence dangle for a moment, or run two sentences together, or give a single word a line all to itself--all this in ways that express ongoing changes in the shapes of the story's action. A well-placed silence is as audible as anything else in a performance, so real the listeners can almost touch it.

One of the main kinds of action that takes place in Zuni stories, as in many other traditions around the world, is dialogue . . .

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