Storyteller-in-residence Jim Weiss visited students in grades PreK–6 last week. He captivated his young audiences by reciting stories that ranged from Aesop’s fables to myths from ancient Greece and West Africa to historical accounts of Red Cloud, the 19th century leader of the Lakota Sioux.
Jim visited each grade during his three-day visit. First graders chanted "Once upon a time . . . ", while third graders wiggled their arms like Anansi, the African folktale character. They laughed at Jim’s slow-motion tortoise voice and were intrigued by astronomer Tycho Brahe’s golden nose.
“Jim’s storyteller-in-residence days are part of our Humanities Center initiative,” noted Interim Humanities Director & WRC Director Jennifer Paull. “He shared his extraordinary gift of conveying the power of stories. Storytelling is such a key practice within the humanities—it is an essential way to create, explore, question, and better understand the human experience.”
More than 50 adults attended Jim’s after-school talk for parents and teachers. Jim described the benefits of sharing stories aloud and offered advice on how to spin tales.
“We had some great questions from the audience,” Jennifer said. “When a parent asked how to attain Jim’s level of storytelling, Jim advised starting small, with everyday anecdotes, to practice crafting the narrative shape and characterization.”
Jim has been a full-time oral storyteller and performing artist for three decades. He has created more than 70 recordings and has won more than 100 awards, including honors from the American Library Association and the Parents’ Choice Foundation. He specializes in history, myths, folklore, and classic literature from many cultures and eras. Jim’s oldest story might be from ancient Sumer—which would make it approximately 10,000 years old!
“I look for what’s universal, and also what’s distinctive about different cultures,” he explained.
Nueva students were inspired by Jim’s way with words.
“Science is a story—everything is a story,” exclaimed second grader Taiye S., just as Jim finished an astronomy story featuring Galileo and Newton.
“He is one of my strongest memories of the entire fourth grade,” added Anna I-M, now a sophomore. “I remember exactly where I sat, how he told the story, and how he made me feel.”
Jim has visited Nueva for more than a decade.
“One thing I notice about this school, and something that is at the heart of my own work, is the respect here between the faculty, staff and the students,” he said. “This is something I’ve focused on my whole life. It’s vital that we have communication and respect. So, to come to a place where that’s so important feels like home to me.”