Legendary storyteller and author Kathryn Tucker Windham is much in the news this October as the town of Thomasville, Alabama prepares for the 7th Annual Kathryn Tucker Windham Ghost Walk on October 23 and Birmingham’s Red Mountain Theatre Company debuts 13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey: A Haunting New Musical on October 29. Mrs. Windham’s Jeffrey’s Favorite 13 Ghost Stories, an anthology of Mrs. Windham’s very favorite tales published by NewSouth Books, will be making lots of Halloween appearances in connection with these activities.
Mrs. Windham looks forward to these events, having recently participated in the 32nd Annual Alabama Tale-Tellin’ Festival in Selma earlier this month. She told the Selma Times-Journal, “I try to encourage audiences to go home and tell stories about their families or themselves. We’ve forgotten how to talk to each other.”
The Birmingham News caught up with Mrs. Windham for a front-page story that ran on Sunday, October 17. Alec Harvey’s wide-ranging piece included an interview with Mrs. Windham, and appreciation of her work from fellow authors and storytellers. Harvey pointed out that Mrs. Windham’s current busy schedule concludes a year in which she battled breast cancer and had a pacemaker replaced.
In the article, Mrs. Windham recalled her days as a young widow with three young children struggling to make ends meet on a newspaper writer’s salary. Unusual occurrences in her house led to the creation of her first ghost story, about a ghost named Jeffery, which was soon joined by others. Publication of her book 13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey lead to a new career: storytelling. A phone call changed her life:
“This unfamiliar voice said, ‘This is Jimmy Neil Smith, and I’m in Jonesborough, Tennessee. I want you to come tell stories at the National Storytelling Festival,'” she says. “Who is pulling my leg now? Somebody named Smith from Jonesborough and a festival I had never heard of. I said, ‘No, I’m not a storyteller. I’m a writer.'”
“I kept waiting for someone to admit they had done this to me, and then one day in the mail, here came this ticket and a letter formally inviting me,” Windham adds. “I decided if they were fool enough to send this to me, I was fool enough to go.”
So Kathryn Tucker Windham — journalist, photographer and single mom — became a storyteller. “I started at the top,” she says with a laugh.
Rick Bragg analyzes Mrs. Windham’s appeal thusly: “She has that storyteller’s front-porch delivery.”
Broadway World featured the new musical 13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey, and al.com’s All the Drama! blog includes a piece on the musical’s writer Don Everett Garrett. Garrett points out that “Any person who went to public school in Alabama knows about 13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey. My hope is that a whole new generation of kids will be introduced to the book.”
Mrs. Windham continues to tell stories through her books, the most recent a memoir called Spit, Scarey Ann, and Sweat Bees: One Thing Leads to Another, published by NewSouth Books. But the scariest thing about the book isn’t very scary at all — it’s the way the black hair on the old-fashioned doll known as Scarey Ann would stand up straight with the pushing of a button on the doll’s back. Things were simpler then. And for Kathryn Tucker Windham maybe also less busy.
Spit, Scarey Ann and Sweat Bees: One Thing Leads to Another, Jeffrey’s Favorite 13 Ghost Stories, Alabama, One Big Front Porch, and Ernest’s Gift are available from NewSouth Books or your favorite retail or online book seller.