Western Carolina University’s Mountain Heritage Center will host a multimedia presentation on “Jack Tales” and storytelling on Thursday, Feb. 16, from 5 to 6 p.m. as part of its Appalachian Living series.
The free, open-to-the-public event will be held in the center gallery, located at 161 Hunter Library.
“Jack Tales” are a Southern Appalachian storytelling staple and a continuation of an English tradition going back hundreds of years. The most familiar and often repeated of the genre is “Jack and the Bean Stalk.”
The oral history and storytelling presentation will include two live stories told by Ashton Woody, a junior majoring in English at WCU, and an open discussion about regional entertainment traditions and mountain dialects.
Also featured will be audio and video recordings of Ray Hicks (1922-2003), considered the master of “Jack Tales” and named a national treasure by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1983 for his storytelling ability. Hicks was a repeat guest at WCU’s Mountain Heritage Day, the September festival that celebrates Southern Appalachian culture through music, living-history demonstrations, crafts and storytelling, appearing in 1985, 1987, 1992, 1995 and 1997. He was posthumously awarded WCU’s Mountain Heritage Award in 2003.
“Jack Tales” evolved from medieval English stories while becoming distinctly mountain lore. The adventures typically include journeys to see the king, outlandish heroic deeds and a humble youth using his wits to gain success or escape dire situations.
“I first heard them from my great-aunt and her mom, my great-grandmother, who were largely responsible for my raising,” said Woody, from Swannanoa in Buncombe County. “My great-aunt in particular used to read them to me out of Richard Chase’s book, ‘The Jack Tales.’ The first I remember was the quintessential ‘Jack and the Bean Pole’.”
Attendees also will be able to see the exhibit “Horace Kephart: Revealing an Enigma” on display in the gallery through Friday, May 12. An author and outdoorsman who helped spearhead the movement to establish Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Kephart took great interest in mountain dialects and expressions, documenting examples. He wrote some text in his classic “Our Southern Highlanders” as an approximation of mountain dialect to reflect local dialogue.
For more information, contact the Mountain Heritage Center at 828-227-7129.