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Folklife Storyteller

Cincinnati's Martha McLeod
to perform at Carroll County Library

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

(February 2003) – Storytelling has been an oral tradition handed down through the ages in all cultures. Even before there were books, there were stories to tell.
Cincinnati resident Martha McLeod is the scheduled performer for the “Wednesdays at One” series at 1 p.m. on Feb. 12 at the Carroll County Public Library. This seasoned storyteller will present a program that will include stories about historical figures relating to abolition and the Underground Railroad and folk tales coming out of African American Traditions.
McLeod said that as an only child she was an avid reader. She also earned a bachelor’s degree in history. These two interests surface to combine into an unforgettable experience for her listeners.

Martha McLeod

Martha McLeod

“For me, one of the joyful parts of storytelling is searching books for tales from all over the world, whether they are historical or folk and or any other type of story,” she said. “It is particularly challenging with historical figures to find quotations and aspects of their histories that can be transformed into a compelling story.”
Author, educator and fellow storyteller Marni Gilland said, “Martha McLeod transports listeners with her tales. She can help us see history’s characters and events with new eyes.”
Every one has a story to tell, and history is sprinkled with antidotes from which to draw. McLeod also obtains stories from other tellers who grant their permission for her to use them.
But storytelling is not just a hobby for her. As a psychotherapist and licensed independent social worker, she listens to stories every day as told to her by her clients.
Drawing upon her own public speaking skills, McLeod also presents programs to educational and professional groups on handling stress, improving people skills, managing emotions, and a presentation titled, “Finding Your Funny Bone: Humor for Better Living.”
McLeod plans each program in advance, targeting a specific topic. Her repertoire includes stories "from outhouses to presidents, and countries and groups from Australia to Native American Peoples," she said.
A native Midwesterner, she has performed in all regions of the United States, including Ohio, Kentucky, Florida, Wisconsin and Wyoming. While raising a family in Idaho and Colorado, she was a professional weaver by trade.
She now resides in Cincinnati, where years ago she ran into an acquaintance at a storytelling performance celebrating Black History Month who informed her of the Greater Cincinnati Storytelling Guild and other nearby festivals. From that point on, she was hooked.
Monthly meetings of the Guild have provided McLeod and other storytellers with the opportunity to test the waters with new stories and learn about storytelling classes, workshops and conferences. "I have gained a great deal from other tellers," she said.
Some of the storytellers McLeod admires are Mary Hamilton, Cynthia Changaris, Elizabeth Ellis and Native American tellers Fred Shaw and Neeake. From them she has learned how to captivate an audience and instill in them an appreciation for her craft.
Hamilton has said of her performances, "Who knew hearing about Harriet Beecher Stowe could be so entertaining?"
McLeod has attended such festivals as the Cave Run Storytelling Festival near Moorhead, Ky., the Hoosier Storytelling Festival in Indianapolis, the annual Fine Arts Fund Sampler Weekend in Cincinnati and the Corn Island Storytelling Festival in Louisville, which is the second oldest storytelling festival in America.
Her fascination with storytelling has led her into other venues within the genre. McLeod produced and hosted a weekly one-hour, summertime radio show on public radio WAIF-FM in Cincinnati.
This provided her an opportunity to meet a variety of people in this field of work such as Mitch Barrett, a singer-songwriter from Berea, Ky., who sets his stories to music. In February 2001, she worked on a weekly radio show for Black History Month, "Freedom Journeys: A Storyteller's Tribute for African American History Month."
Nancy Colegrove, a former principal and school administrator from the Cincinnati area, has seen McLeod's presentation on the Underground Railroad and called it "historically grounded." She said McLeod did not merely tell a story, but she also provided interesting facts and tidbits. These were added in a way that seemed to flow with the story making it a stimulating history lesson as well.
Many slaves crossed the Ohio River at Cincinnati, so it is only natural that McLeod would research the area where she lives and incorporate this into her repertoire.
Colegrove said she is quite a master storyteller that has a growing reputation for storytelling in schools, churches and different organizations in the Cincinnati area.
"She is really good at gearing storytelling to an audience," said Colgrove. "She's very easy to listen to, with a nice voice that resonates. She really gets into the character."

• For more information about McLeod, call the library at (502) 732-7020 or visit: www.marthastories.com.

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