Every Tuesday, about 80 people trickle into one venue or another around the state. There’s food. There’s music. Chatter. To get Tales From the South going, Paula Martin Morell welcomes everyone gathered, as any good host would.
“How’s everybody doing tonight? Are y’all ready for some Southern-style storytelling?”
Three raconteurs step up to the microphone, one after the other. It’s just them and their stories and a room full of strangers. Somewhere in the back, Morell sits and watches, as she’s been doing for 10 years. Though she’s read and reread their stories, she’s never seen them—the writers—or heard the cracks, cadence and timbre of their voices. The way they articulate the words she’s helped polish and coax out. The slight flutter of paper clenched between two fingers.
Tales was once a small endeavor, a let’s-see-where-this-goes experiment that slowly blossomed into a radio show followed by folks around the country—and as far away as Russia and Saudi Arabia. The revival of this ancient art form could be considered a cultural counterweight to the age of social media. But most importantly, it’s a celebration of Southerners, their tragedies and triumphs.
Although her program has moved on from its original location, Starving Artist Cafe (which closed last year), Morell says she’s quick to adapt to change and calls herself a gypsy of sorts. She looks at Tales through the same lens. She lets it go where it wants to organically, and she hopes to follow it wherever it leads.