Tallest tale in all the land
Tonganoxie area resident 1st woman to win storytelling contest
Keyta Kelly has the knack for telling a humdinger of a story.
She has a shovel to prove it.
Kelly recently was chosen as the latest tall tale storyteller champion. The competition took place a couple weekends ago in Downs, the Storytelling Capital of Kansas.
The local lawyer was one of 10 who tried out last year and competed in an initial round. That was narrowed down to four finalists, all of whom told their tales during the Kansas Storytelling Festival on April 25 and 26.
After all the stretched stories were told at the 22nd annual event, Kelly’s tall tale was named No. 1. Her named was burned into the handle of a shovel. She’ll have the opportunity to defend her title the next two years. She’s also the first woman to have the title.
“It’s actually very exciting,” Kelly said. “I didn’t think it would be, but it was, especially when they said I was the first woman to have won the title.
“That was kind of nice to break through that glass ceiling.”
Kelly’s initial interest in the festival and its workshops came through her role in the First City Performers and Story Tellers, an organization that brings notable Leavenworth County residents of the past to life through portrayals at various events.
PAST members thought storytelling workshops would help them refine their skills in portraying historic figures.
In the process, Kelly got involved in the tall tale competition.
Her first tall tale story was based on her trip with other Tonganoxie-area women to Downs for workshops last year.
“I told a story of the women I went with about us staying in these cabins and stretched it and stretched it until it was funny and bizarre,” Kelly said.
In April, she told a story about telling stories.
“I was getting so wound up about telling tall tales and everywhere I would go it would have an effect on where I went,” she said.
Kelly said the elements of a tall tale are that it starts out true or could be true and then it just slightly is exaggerated. At the end of the story, the person listening might think “it can’t be true, but maybe it is,” Kelly said.
Judges critiqued Kelly and the other tellers of tall tales. She said timing is important when telling a tale. For instance, the storyteller should have an extended pause if his or her narrative causes some laughs. Once the laughter subsides, they can continue on with the story.
Kelly admitted that she didn’t always provide that pause. She had rehearsed her tall tale and had it timed, so she moved forward to stay on schedule.
Of course, she’ll have two more years to work on her skills.
“I’ll have to defend my title,” she said. “It’s a lot of fun. It’s worth doing.”
The festival attracts residents from Colorado, Nebraska and Oklahoma as well as Kansas.
In fact, former Gov. Bill Graves gave made a proclamation that it was the Storytelling Capital of Kansas.
Kelly said she hoped Tonganoxie could generate a festival of its own.
“We wouldn’t want to copy Downs, but to do something else of that nature would be really nice,” she said.