To kick off the weekend, the SSF and the Minnesota Marine Art Museum will co-host an evening performance, Water Stories by Twin Cities Hmong-American writer and featured storyteller, Kao Kalia Yang. Yang is the author of the memoirs The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir, The Song Poet, Somewhere in the Unknown World, and much more. Yang’s work has been recognized by the National Endowment for the Arts, and she has been honored with the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Chautauqua Prize, the PEN USA literary awards, the Dayton’s Literary Peace Prize, as Notable Books by the American Library Association, Kirkus Best Books of the Year, the Heartland Bookseller’s Award, and four Minnesota Books awards. Yang’s libretto for The Song Poet will see its premiere with Minnesota Opera in March 2023 and is the first Hmong story to be adapted for the operatic stage. This festive, opening night gala will include food, drinks, and the extraordinary artistry of Kao Kalia Yang. During the event, attendees will be introduced to the weekend’s five storytellers.

The SSF23 storytellers are:

Kevin Kling – Returning to Winona, Kevin Kling is a well-known playwright and storyteller, and his commentaries can be heard on NPR’s All Things Considered. He lives in Minneapolis, but his plays and adaptations have been performed around the world. Kling, best known for his popular commentaries and his storytelling stage shows like Tales from the Charred Underbelly of the Yule Log, delivers hilarious, often tender stories. Kling’s autobiographical tales are as enchanting as they are true to life: hopping freight trains, getting hit by lightning, performing his banned play in Czechoslovakia, growing up in Minnesota, and eating things before knowing what they are.

Diane Ferlatte – Diane Ferlatte was steeped in the oral tradition as a youngster. Her early childhood years in Louisiana were spent on her grandparent’s porch with the family and neighbors swapping stories, lies, and tales. After moving to California as an adolescent, she has fond memories of the annual trek back to Louisiana with her family, where she recalls fishing in the bayou, making hoecake bread, singing, and storytelling. Her raconteur father would invariably lead the way with family news and history. As she grew older, Ferlatte played the piano and sang in church choirs, performed in various stage productions, and became proficient in American Sign Language, all of which contributed to a completely unforeseen career in storytelling.

Bil Lepp – The festival’s returning headliner, back by popular demand, is Bil Lepp, who will continue to regale us with his unique antics, family-friendly tall tales, and stories that have earned the appreciation of listeners of all ages and from all walks of life. Though he is a five-time champion of the West Virginia Liars Contest, his stories often contain morsels of truth, which present universal themes in clever and witty ways. Bil’s amusing tales and insights into everyday life have delighted audiences across the country, from grade schools to corporate executives to Comedy Central’s Hudson stage.

Motoko – The recipient of the National Storytelling Network’s 2017 Circle of Excellence Award, Motoko has enchanted audiences of every age since 1993. She trained with master mime Tony Montanaro (1927-2002) and renowned Appalachian storyteller Elizabeth Ellis. Motoko’s repertoire includes Asian folktales, Rakugo and Zen tales, ghost stories, mime vignettes, as well as oral memoirs from her childhood in Osaka and her life as an immigrant in the U.S.

Kim Weitkamp – As the redheaded child of exhausted parents, Kim Weitkamp grew up enjoying the role of the middle child. Allowed to roam free in the heart of Amish Country, her imagination was ripened by a life lived outdoors. Now she enjoys the role of being one of the most sought-after storytellers and speakers in the country. One reviewer stated, “Kim is a master at seamlessly building bridges from story, to song, to story. Like all good storytellers she evokes both laughter and tears, but her smooth silky voice, impeccable timing, and dead-on anticipation of her listeners’ needs place her at the pinnacle of her craft.”

And, after the positive feedback from bringing the ‘tellers’ into local schools this fall, the storytellers will perform in the Winona schools and universities next fall as well. The festival will again feature food, workshops, concerts, and — of course — storytelling in the Page Theatre at Saint Mary’s University, as well as other venues around Winona.

Mark your calendars and watch for additional upcoming events, fundraisers, more Business and Immigrant Stories, and the Sandbar Storytelling Circle. Tickets go on sale for SSF23 later this spring.