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The storytellers

Carmen Deedy, Rob Cleveland, Audrey Galex, Andy Offutt Irwin


Carmen Deedy

Age: 47

Hometown: Born in Havana, raised in Decatur

Inspirational figure: "My father was the best storyteller I ever heard. Papi could take a scrap and turn it into a saga."

Storytelling specialty: "About 80 percent of my stories are folklore, and they range from Irish to Caribbean to African to European to Eastern European to Russian. The rest are family and personal stories about Cuba and the South."

Size of repertoire: "I have over 200 stories in my repertoire. I've been doing them almost 20 years, so that's about 10 stories a year."

Other sides of career: Nontelling speaking engagements and writing children's books.

Memorable gig: "When I was going to tell at one of my first big venues in Atlanta, I asked my best friend from childhood to come hear me. It turned out to be disastrous. I asked her what she thought and told her to shoot straight, and she said, 'The truth? I don't think you're a story teller.' So after three days of eating Rocky Road ice cream and walking around in a chenille bathrobe, I talked to my dad about it. He said, 'It's partially true. You're not a storyteller yet. You can love something without waking up and knowing how to do it.' It takes at least a hundred tellings of a story before you start to clarify it."

Rob Cleveland

Age: 52

Hometown: Atlanta

Inspirational figure: "My dad and mom didn't tell stories. Instead, I had Bill Cosby and Bob Newhart. Bill Cosby's material is not what you'd consider stand-up comedy today, which is all about fast punchlines. ... Today, he'd be considered a storyteller."

Storytelling specialty: Folk tales from world culture as well as comedic personal stories, such as his memories of the Pink Pig tradition at Atlanta Christmases.

Size of repertoire: "I have a telling repertoire of about 35 to 40 possible stories, depending on the event or the ages of the audience."

Other sides of career: Director of development for August House, a small Atlanta publisher that specializes in books from professional storytellers. Stage actor, frequently at Georgia Shakespeare. "Sometimes I use stand-up comedy and storytelling techniques for hosting events and auctioneering. If you can get people laughing and drinking, they'll bid on anything."

Memorable gig: "Once I told an African story called 'The Clever Monkey' to a group of children who were African refugees. This 7-year-old boy was scowling at me and asked, 'Are you from Africa?' I said, 'Not recently.' He said, 'My great-grandfather tells this story. You better get it right!' So I told the story and I got to the end. The scowling boy beamed and said, 'That's how great-grandfather tells it!' Whew!"

Audrey Galex

Age: 49

Hometown: "I grew up in Rock Island, Ill., but moved to Atlanta from Israel 21 years ago."

Inspirational figure: "My grandmother Rose Galex, who we called 'Sugie,' didn't make it further than the first grade, but she was a magical storyteller. She was from a village from the Ukraine and gifted us with stories from the old country."

Storytelling specialty: "I'd say that about 60 percent of my stories are personal. I love sharing personal stories about overcoming adversity. I also love telling folktales from the Jewish traditions, especially when there are different versions in other cultures, like Hasidic/Christian stories. I dedicate all the proceeds of my storytelling to environmental sustainability and peace in the Middle East."

Size of repertoire: "I have probably about 30 solid stories that I can whip out at any time, and probably 50 more in various stages of preparation and polish."

Other sides of career: Works part-time at a nursing home and is raising three children. Active in interfaith groups, such as the Interfaith Story Circle.

Memorable gig: "At my first storytelling job, I was a storytelling tooth fairy for a 6-year-old's birthday. I had a tiara, a wand and an old wedding gown. I didn't know how much to charge, and wasn't even sure I should take money for it, so I suggested that they make a donation to the Southern Order of Storytellers instead. I've come a long way from that to stories about peace and justice."

Andy Offutt Irwin

Age: 50

Hometown: "I'm eighth generation from Covington, Ga. That's why my head's so small."

Inspirational figure: "I really cut my teeth on Bill Cosby records. I was raised by my mother and grandmother and was imitating my grandmother at an early age. My Aunt Marguerite character is based on them and sounds like my grandmother."

Storytelling speciality: "I do fictional stories about growing up in Covington. The Aunt Marguerite stories are more for adults and involve aging and race relations. Some of it can get pretty hairy. I do songwriting and singing, but mostly for children."

Size of repertoire: Twenty to 30. "I have about seven hours of material that's been tested."

Other sides of career: He's writing a book, sells his recordings and is working on his fourth storytelling album.

Memorable gig: "When Bil Lepp and I were at a storytelling festival in Utah, they had a stage with an American Sign Language interpreter. I was on one of the other stages talking about [one of] my characters, Mr. Jenkins, an old man who works at a hardware story and speaks with a fast, thick accent. No one was laughing, so I remarked that what I needed was a Southern interpreter. Bil came up and 'translated' for the Utah audience. So Mr. Jenkins would say something like, 'We partied on New Year's Eve!' and Bil would translate it as 'We went to church on New Year's Eve.' We did about 15 minutes of unplanned improv on that."

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