Everyday People

Stories meant everything to Carl Sandburg. The family’s library at Connemara, shown in part here, was recently restored.
Photo by Rachel Pressley

To mark the 50th anniversary of the Carl Sandburg Home Historic Site, staff will host the national park’s first community storytelling event at nearby Blue Ridge Community College. The “slam” is scheduled to coincide with another important commemoration: Sandburg’s 140th birthday on January 6.

Sandburg, a native of Illinois, was called the “Voice of the People” for his honest, unadorned poetry honoring Midwestern culture and citizens. But he wrote the bulk of his output after he retired to Flat Rock with his wife, Lilian “Paula” Sandburg, their daughters, and a herd of prize-winning dairy goats. The poet died in the house (dubbed “Connemara”) in 1967, at age 89. He won Pulitzer prizes for The Complete Poems of Carl Sandburg, Corn Huskers, and for his epic, six-edition biography of Abraham Lincoln.

Sandburg’s fluid transitions between prose and verse distinguish him from most of his contemporaries, as do his roles as a story and song collector. Park Superintendent Pauline Angelakis says Sandburg’s passionate interest in others’ lives and perspectives inspired his frequent travel across America, absorbing the folkways of various regions.

“His writings and lectures captured and magnified the stories of everyday people,” she comments. “A storytelling slam, [performed] by everyday people, is a powerful and appropriate way to honor his legacy.” A meticulous restoration of the Sandburgs’ home library was completed in the fall, adding another timely layer to the event.

Modeled after radio and other live storytelling events, “Perspectives: The Sandburg Story Slam” will be a performance of true personal narratives. Judges will assess each story based on its credibility as real-life content, as well as the prose’s overall resonance. Along with satisfying the theme — dream — applicants were required in November to submit a voice recording of their five-minute nonfiction stories.

Though Sandburg is perhaps best known for his verse, poetry was not accepted for the slam, nor was musical accompaniment or stand-up routines. But Angelakis credits John Fowler — like Sandburg, an author/musician/storyteller — who helped with the program’s development and will serve as emcee. 

“We couldn’t do this without him,” she says. 

The best stories, she suggests, can make us laugh (or cry) and think, all at once. “They’re how we remember, honor, and learn. As a tribute to Carl Sandburg’s legacy, we hope people from all walks of life participate in this new program.”

Perspectives: The Sandburg Story Slam will be held at Blue Ridge Community College’s Bo Thomas Auditorium from 2-4pm on Sunday, Jan. 6, 2019, with cash prizes for first, second, and third place. In the event of snow, the alternate date is January 13, 2-4pm. For more information, call 828-693-4178 or visit nps.gov/carl/planyourvisit/slam.htm.

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