Q&A with Donald Davis, author of Tales from a Free-Range Childhood

You already know Donald Davis’s new book, Tales from a Free-Range Childhood, is an Okra Pick. Now find out more about the author himself with the quick little interview below. And if you happen to be in North Carolina, you can catch Donald at a number of book signings across the state. Click here for complete details of his book signing tour, and go to Donald’s website to find information on his upcoming storytelling appearances.

Donald Davis, author of Tales from a Free-Range Childhood

Q. How did you become a storyteller? 

A. When I was a child, our family spent a lot of time visiting our many relatives.  I loved to listen to the “old people” talk.  The word “story” was never used, but, their conversations were stories.  I would go back to school and repeat what I had heard.  Gradually, people began to ask me to retell the stories more and more, and finally I added my own stories began.  All I have ever done to become a storyteller is respond to other people’s requests that I come somewhere and tell stories.

Q. What about your childhood made for stories? 

A. I was a very shy and physically small child.  Instead of entering into things, I loved to stay back and watch.  I also learned from my mother, a schoolteacher, that if you did not cause overt trouble, you could silently get away with most anything. 

Q. If you weren’t a storyteller, what would you do instead? 

A. No matter how I might earn my living, I guess I am sentenced to be a storyteller because I talk!  But there are so many things I would love to have done. I love to build things and could have done anything happily from carpentry to furniture making.  I love physics and could have easily spent my life in theoretical post-Newtonian physics.  I love the dirt of the earth and growing and would very happily been a farmer, as were all my ancestors up to a generation ago.  The list could go on and on!

Q. Ever read a book that changed your life? 

A. I read all the time, fiction and non-fiction.  Usually three or four books each week.  It was important to me to read Michener’s Fires of Spring, a very autobiographical book different from all his other work.  I have loved all the beautiful writing of Willa Cather and most of Wallace Stegner.  Everything that you read changes you a little bit, so, I guess I am shaped a lot by my reading. Jane Eyre has had a powerful impact on me as a perfectly plotted work.

 Q. If you could meet any author, living or dead, who would it be? 

A. The most re-read book for me always has been The Odyssey.  I love the Feagles translation, but have read the book over and over in many translated versions.  If I can imagine anything, it would be to meet whoever Homer was and be able to hear about the discovery of the story and the conceptualization of it out of all kinds of oral and traditional sources.

 Q. Now that Tales from a Free-Range Childhood is finished, how will you spend your time? 

A. I travel all the time as a performing storyteller.  Last year I was on the road 294 days.  So, there is plenty to do.  I am also working on a new book which is a collection of stories in which my father is the catalytic agent. 

Q. What’s the difference between telling and writing the same stories? 

A. Telling and writing happen in very different media.  In telling, you have your entire visible body to use, your voice and all its variations, your displayable feelings and emotions, and the interactive help of the audience.  Telling is a dance between the teller and the audience; both have their part in the experience of the story.  When you write, you are working for a reader who has several limits, but also a couple of assets.  Your reader cannot see you, hear your voice, help you, or ask questions.  So, you have to try to tell everything in the written version.  But, the reader, unlike the listener, can always reread and look back if he missed something.  Playing with the difference between the two versions is a lot of fun!

 Q. Any advice for folks who want to become storytellers?

A. Advice?  Start telling.  Keep telling.  Don’t stop telling.  Read.  Read.  Read.  Finally, try writing, and keep on at it. Read  some more!!


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