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In Roanoke, Hoot and Holler Your Stories in Good Company

Storytelling is as old as the human race; from cave paintings and tales told around a fire to modern day messages beamed across satellites, there has always been a desire to communicate personal experiences and insights.  One Roanoke woman is making that happen in her hometown, creating a place to share life’s moments.   

Lee Hunsaker is a native Virginian.  She spent 20 years in Austin, Texas working as a costumer in the film industry.  Then, in 2008, her life changed.

“I was diagnosed with breast cancer. That, of course, puts the breaks on everything and makes you re-evaluate your life and where you are and the things you want to change.  And, I decided to move back to Virginia, to Roanoke, to where I'm from. I missed the mountains, I missed the people, I missed my family.”  

She says she realized she needed something more than just coming home.

“I needed an outlet to express myself; my grief, my rage, all of those emotions that come with an illness.  So, I started conducting writing workshops with cancer survivors.  And, just hearing the stories, hearing the people be so raw and honest about their lives made me realize that everybody needs that kind of an outlet, everybody needs a place to be heard."

Hunsaker created that place with Hoot and Holler: Our Stories Out Loud, a moveable feast of storytelling.

I happens on the porch of a local coffee shop in the warm weather and in a small venue in Old Southwest Roanoke when it turns cold.

Regardless of the location, Hunsaker says those who sign up to share always rise to the occasion.

“They summon their voice when they get up there because I think the Hoot and Holler audience is one of the most positive audiences I've ever experienced. You can literally feel the love. People want you to succeed when you're up there and the storytellers feel that.  What comes out of their mouths is usually absolute magic."

Roanoke Times reporter Matt Chittum was one of the first to step up to the Hoot and Holler microphone, telling of life with an alcoholic father and what he discovered after his father’s death:

“He'd been a shy, stuttering, anxiety ridden boy. Alcohol had never crossed his lips until he enlisted in the Marine Corps; landed in Solomon Islands during World War II where he worked in the motor pool. And, he met a guy. The guy was a 'party person' as he called him. Dad had his first drinks. And, for the first time in his life he said he felt a release from that anxiety. And, he just wanted that feeling again."

Hunsaker continues, “No matter what someone else's story is, whether or not you can relate to that at all, if you have had none of those experiences; if you can really be present for someone's voice and if the person talking really speaks from their heart, really speaks the truth, there's going to be something in their story you can connect to.  And, that is something I am learning over and over again."

Hoot and Holler has presented seven storytelling events since October of last year, each one a sell out. 

Hunsaker says  from the beginning she knew Roanoke was it. “I decided that Roanoke was going to be an amazing place to hear these voices.  It's so rich with characters and history and it's just part of my soul.  And, I knew that people would respond. I did not realize how well they would respond. 

It was sort of a dream event that has blossomed into something that I feel thrilled about and so excited about where we can go with it, too."

The next stop is Floyd Fest, the annual music and art festival this weekend in Floyd County. Hoot and Holler will present three storytelling sessions; Thursday, Friday and Sunday.  Have a story to tell? Hoot and Holler is seeking Floydfest orators - reach out and find information here.

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Luke Church
Luke Church hosts Roots Down on WVTF Music.