Suddenly They Heard Footsteps: Storytelling for the Twenty-First Century

By Philpot, Jonathan | Western Folklore, Fall 2008 | Go to article overview

Suddenly They Heard Footsteps: Storytelling for the Twenty-First Century


Philpot, Jonathan, Western Folklore


Suddenly They Heard Footsteps: Storytelling for the Twenty-First Century. By Dan Yashinsky. (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2004. Pp. xviii + 318, acknowledgments, preface, appendix, bibliography. $50.00 cloth, $25.00 paper)

The blurb on the back cover of Dan Yashinsky's Suddenly They Heard Footsteps: Storytelling in the Twenty-First Century describes this book as "a manifesto for storytelling's future and a handbook of stories and inspiration." Its intended audience is not necessarily the folklorist, or any academic looking to cast a critical eye upon scholarly work, but rather the storytelling enthusiast - professional as well as amateur. I do not mean die term "storytelling enthusiast" in a derogatory way, but one does have to be endiusiastic about storytelling to accept some of the audior's assumptions. Dan Yashinsky is straightforward about his purpose: He wants to save the world, and he says storytelling is the way to do it. This is a book passionately written by a man who believes in the power of storytelling to reinvigorate community and provide relief from postmodern alienation. And he perceives that we are in the early stages of a storytelling renaissance. He wrote Footsteps for people who embrace these beliefs, whether they mean to use the book's ideas on a grand scale, as he does, or just for the betterment of their own lives.

A mix of memoir and how-to, Footsteps is meant to encourage and inspire. As a memoir of wisdom gained dirough a lifetime of professional storytelling, it is excellent. Yashinsky writes clearly and intelligently about himself and the travails of his chosen career, and his personal narratives are funny and compelling. As folklorists we might be tempted to declaim about motifs, structuralism, text and context, oral formulaic theory, and so on. Although he does not discuss these things on a scholarly level, Yashinsky is clearly aware of them all, and he discusses them in plain language with an eye to how they affect actual performance. As a how-to book, Footsteps is not definitive - it is, after all, "a manifesto," not Storytelling for Dummies-but Footsteps would be a good starting-place for a beginner. Even as he entertains with stories of early mishaps and lessons learned (as in the chapter "Frankie and the Firebird") , Yashinsky imparts a wealth of advice on a number of subjects, including where to find stories; why source material, whether written or collected orally, must be respected; and even how and when it might be appropriate to tell stories during times of crisis (in the chapter called "Emergency Storytelling"). …

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