Taos Web Logged

Taos Web Log | Taos, Logged | Blog Taos | Taos Blog

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Spellbound by Joe Hayes

“Corn, beans, melons and squash – good to eat -- good to eat!” Joe Hayes, eyes sparkled as he told the tale of Yellow Corn Girl for the first and second graders at Taos Day School at Taos Pueblo Friday (Oct. 21).

Hayes was here for the SOMOS Sixth Annual Storytelling Festival and he’s made it a habit of dropping by Taos Day School for a round of stories.

In the story Yellow Corn Girl hears this “corn, beans, melons and squash” song of Grasshopper and wants to learn it so bad she promises to allow Grasshopper and his brothers and sisters have a day in her garden in exchange for his teaching it to her. The moral of the story tells us that we should understand fully what we promise rather than be surprised and dismayed like Yellow Corn Girl when Grasshopper and his thousands of brothers and sisters stripped her garden in one day.

There’s something about the way Joe Hayes tells a story that pulls you in from the onset. It could be his subject matter or the way he tells his tales, but most likely it is his degree of sincerity and the ring of the genuine article that reels us in.

His stories are not so much memorized word for word as they are understood so thoroughly that if he needs to embellish here, or condense details there, to keep the audience’s attention, the story holds together. He knows what the story really means and why it needs to be told. He knows when listeners are getting restless and he is aware when they are hanging on every word.

The stories Hayes tells are a combination of the traditional lore of the American Southwest and his own imagination. The traditional part of the story is based on things people have told him and on what he’s learned from reading the work of folklorists and anthropologists. Hayes’ own contribution is based on his instincts as a storyteller and what his experience tells him listeners need in order to feel satisfied with a story.

For many years, Hayes has been the resident storyteller at the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian in Santa Fe. He has told stories at the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tenn. This year Hayes received the Talking Leaves Literary Award from the National Storytelling Network, an award given to members of the storytelling community who have made considerable, serious and influential contributions to the literature of storytelling. Hayes has taught storytelling to teachers at the University of New Mexico and been a guest lecturer at many colleges and universities, delivering the commencement address for the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at U.C.L.A. He was designated a New Mexico Eminent Scholar by the New Mexico Commission on Higher Education, and in 1995 he received the New Mexico Governor’s Award for Excellence.

Hayes began sharing his stories in print in 1982. His books have received the Arizona Young Readers Award, two Land of Enchantment Children’s Book Awards, four IPPY Awards, a Southwest Book Award and an Aesop Accolade Award. His books have been on the Texas Bluebonnet Award Master List twice. His book The Day It Snowed Tortillas was chosen by the editors of The Bloomsbury Review as one of their 15 favorite children’s books published in the past 15 years.

As Hayes said goodbye to the children, he asked them if they would be kind to their teachers and not sing Grasshopper’s song over and over once they got back into class. Then he sang it one more time and by now the children knew every word of the song and sang it with him loudly with cheerful abandon.

As he said goodbye to each child individually, he pulled up a chair because he said he knew he was tall and he didn’t want the children to have to crane their necks to look up at him. The children immediately crowded around him – their eyes gleaming because of what has been shared. Spilling outside into the autumn afternoon they continued to sing “Corn, beans, melons and squash – good to eat – good to eat!” They’d never forget the song, the story or Joe Hayes.

Photographs by Rick Romancito.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home