As our interview is wrapping up, Terrell Shaw says he has to get going because he has a turtle and a crocodile in his car. But that’s a story for another day, apparently.

“Leave ‘em wanting more” could be the motto of a storyteller in any medium, from the written word to movie-making, but Shaw works in the world’s oldest format: standing in front of folks and regaling them with stories that may contain a grain or two of truth. He can coax a laugh from a child or jerk a tear from an adult (and on occasion throw in a good potluck supper).

The only thing he can’t do is pat himself on the back. It’s the hallmark of a good leader not to hog the credit. In the case of the Ridge & Valley Storytellers Guild, led by Shaw, it would be outright fibbing.

The group’s signature event, the Big Fibbers Festival, will run March 17-19. It is either the 3rd or the 241st festival, somewhere in that range. Ambiguity is the whole idea, after all. This much is certain: It will take place at Trinity United Methodist Church in Rome. There will be stories from local, regional and national tellers; a storytelling workshop (“this year aimed at teachers and pastors”); a contest for those 17 and under; and the highlight: the tall-tale contest for grown-ups. But even the latter have to keep it clean. (“No fussin’ or cussin’” is written in the rules.) An added program this year, “Nothing But the Truth,” features Anthony Vincent and Chetter Galloway.

“Our stated goal is to promote storytelling,” Shaw says. “So many people are unaware of what professional storytelling is all about. We just try to be the group that promotes storytelling in this area.”

Education then, perhaps not coincidentally, is the bedrock if not the spotlight of the group’s work. Shaw, Jane Cunningham (stage name: “Miss Jane”), Bob Harris and Mary Elena Kirk are all certified teachers. They take the Young Tales program into schools.

“It’s really a writing program,” Shaw says. “As a school teacher, it’s the best writing program that I’ve used in my career. Pretty soon, they’re jotting down troubles they’ve had in telling their stories to each other and asking, ‘Could you tell me more?’ They have a ball telling each other’s stories.

“There’s a lot of remembering personal tales. It’s the children’s idea to write it down.”

Debby Brown gets general credit for the genesis of what’s now Big Fibbers and direct credit for hatching the Young Tales at Chieftans Museum. After she died three years ago, Shaw says, “We thought, if we’re going to keep this going, we will need to promote our own events, but we will not get in anybody else’s way,” referencing Rome Little Theatre and the annual Cave Scream Ghost Tours in Cave Spring as examples.
In addition, the group puts on a “Tellebration” each November and performs on stage at Schroeder’s New Deli each summer and is apt to tell tales at any invitation. (Are you listening, civic clubs?)

But it’s the Big Fibbers banners that will soon unfurl on Broad Street that tell the big story.

The festival is special for “preachers, politicians and other provocateurs,” Shaw likes to say.

Past events have featured national headliners including Bill Lepp and Andy Offutt Irwin. This year’s headliners will be Carol Cain, a rising star from LaGrange, and reigning Big Fibber champ Natalie Jones from Acworth.

Sponsors include the Chiaha Guild, Berry College, the Sarah Hightower Regional Library, Coosa Valley Federal Credit Union, and the Greater Rome Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Complete information, including times and tickets, is on the Big Fibbers Facebook page.

There is an irony that Shaw and many in Ridge & Valley Storytellers are of a generation that used to chant, “Tell it like it is!” Now, their focus is on telling it like it isn’t.

J. Bryant Steele was first published when he was 14 and has made a living stringing words together for 40 years. But the main reason he writes is to avoid housework. He has won 50 or so writing awards. He is a graduate of the Grady School of Journalism (The University of Georgia) and of Education for Ministry (The University of the South). He also publishes poetry and fiction. He is the proud father of two magnificent adult children. He is also very opinionated.