‘Story State’ shines spotlight on new era of Mississippi storytellers

Contact: Sam Kealhoefer

Story State flyer with purple text on a green backgroundSTARKVILLE, Miss.—Mississippi State University’s Department of Communication is hosting a statewide virtual event bringing together more than a dozen storytellers aimed to help the next generation find their place in the genealogy of Mississippi writers.

The Feb. 25 event “Story State: Fostering Innovative Storytelling” gathers storytellers of different genres to share their experiences and offer advice. The event is free and open to the public and will be broadcast at 1 p.m. from storystate.msstate.edu

Story State seeks to honor Mississippi’s artistic heritage as the birthplace of the blues and home to famous writers and artists, as well as demonstrate how new creators have transformed the face of storytelling.

“Everyone knows about Faulkner, Welty, Elvis and Robert Johnson, but there are a whole lot of other great storytellers in Mississippi,” said Josh Foreman, an instructor in the communication department and chair of this year’s Story State planning committee.

Leading this year’s slate of storytellers is Anna Wolfe, a Mississippi Today reporter and top investigative journalist. Wolfe has spent more than five years reporting on poverty and economic justice in the Magnolia State and has received national recognition for her work. She will give participants a behind-the-scenes look at her experience reporting on the state’s “restitution centers”—what she terms “debtors’ prisons.”

In addition to Wolfe, other speakers and topics include:

Duwayne Burnside, Mississippi Blues singer, discussion and performance of Hill Country blues.

David Garraway, MSU Television Center director, creative and engaging video storytelling.

Jonathan Harris, Northern Gulf Institute outreach coordinator, and Tonya Hays, award-winning playwright and MSU assistant professor of communication, their original play focusing on the subject of climate change and its potential impacts on the Gulf Coast region.

Zach Lancaster, a core crew member for HGTV’s “Home Town,” will talk about the television production. 

 —Rick Looser, nationally known public relations professional, overturning stereotypes through his Mississippi Believe It! campaign. 

Francine Reynolds, artistic director at New Stage Theatre in Jackson, what makes Mississippi history a perfect subject for theatre.

Benjamin Saulsberry, tour coordinator at the Emmett Till Interpretive Center in Sumner, how the Emmett Till Memorial Commission is working to create racial harmony.

Steve Soltis, senior adviser with MAS Leadership Communication and former communication executive for the Coca-Cola Company and UPS, roundtable discussion on the storytelling side of marketing. Soltis will be joined by Paul Summers, winemaker at Knight’s Gambit Vineyards in Charlottesville, Virginia; Benjamin West, Europe brand director at Veuve Clicquot; and Derek Irby and Jean Mohammadi-Aragh Irby, founders of Mayhew Junction Brewery.

Ryan Starrett, author of “Dallas Tough: Historic Tales of Grit, Audacity and Defiance,” stories of the dead. 

Michael Williams, writer, director and cinematographer, the creative process of video production.

Additionally, the communication department has invited undergraduate students from universities and colleges around the state to submit original nonfiction writing, podcasts and short documentary films as part of a Story State Storytelling Competition. Three of these submissions will receive Master Storyteller awards during the event.

Part of MSU’s College of Arts and Sciences, the Department of Communication is online at www.comm.msstate.edu.

MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at www.msstate.edu.