Mississippi State University's Department of Communication will virtually host Story State: Fostering Innovative Storytelling on Thursday at 1 p.m.

The event can be found on the Story State website. Event organizer and MSU instructor Josh Foreman said anyone can join to hear successful storytellers from the state of Mississippi speak about their lives and professions.

Foreman said the event is set up like a TED Talk where people can tune in live or go back to watch it on the website any time after the event airs. This way, everyone has an opportunity to learn from some of the best storytellers the state has to offer.

"In the communication department, our goal is to train storytellers," Foreman said. "We thought, 'Why don't we take a look around Mississippi and identify those who are leading the state in storytelling and have them not only speak to students but people in general?'"

According to Foreman, the communication department focuses on storytelling by training actors and writers in the theatre concentration, writers in the journalism concentration and filmmakers in the broadcast concentration.

Mississippi is famous for producing storytellers such as Eudora Welty, Elvis Presley, Robert Johnson and William Faulkner. Foreman said these people had the peak of their success in the 20th century. Therefore, Foreman wanted to feature storytellers from this century who people may look back on as the storytelling legends of this time.

MSU Department of Communication graduate and award-winning investigative journalist Anna Wolfe will be the keynote speaker. She regularly reports on government corruption, poverty and economic injustice. She will be joined by other speakers mostly from, living or working in the state.

Jackson author Ryan Starrett will speak at the event about listening to the past and finding stories from our ancestors: the ghosts of Mississippi.

Starrett has written many history books including "Hidden History of Jackson," "Hidden History of the Mississippi Sound," "Dallas Tough: Historic Tales of Grit, Audacity and Defiance" and several others.

Starrett has always had a draw toward storytelling, attributing it to his Mississippi heritage.

"I always appreciate stories and grew up with a family who encouraged us to read and tell stories at the table," Starrett said. "I guess it is just in Mississippi blood."

Starrett believes it is important to show people there are many mediums to share stories through art, dance, song and many other ways. He said the diversity in Story State panelists helps to accomplish that goal.

Event organizer Foreman said attendees can also hear from Duwayne Burnside, a country blues musician from Mississippi. He will speak on his music, songwriting and what he thinks when he plays a show.

According to Department Head of Communication Terry Likes, an off-campus event known as the New Narrative Festival was held in 2018 and 2019, before the event moved on campus and was renamed as Story State. The New Narrative Festival was in-person with a similar goal: to expose students, faculty and others to storytellers. 

The first Story State was supposed to occur in the spring semester of 2020 before being cancelled due to COVID-19.

"Because of what we are going through, Professor Foreman and others have been able to collaborate and move everything online with a quick depository of information," Likes said. "People can watch not only this Thursday but beyond that time as well," Likes said.

Likes believes it is important to learn from a diverse group of people like the Story State panelists who all have stories to tell.

Event organizer Foreman said the Department of Communication will give out "Master Storyteller" awards to undergraduate students across the state. 

Foreman said the competition has closed for this year, but students can work on submitting written stories, podcasts or documentary films by November for the next "Master Storyteller" awards.

Foreman hopes students, faculty and everyone else who is interested will tune into the event on Thursday. 

"This is valuable, fun and digestible," Foreman said. "Our presentations are around 12 to 15 minutes, so it is not like you have to commit an hour to watch these presentations. I think it would benefit anyone to watch this event."

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