“The first stories that I heard weren’t at a storytelling festival,” writes Gary Carden, “nor were the storytellers on a stage duded out in overalls and bandanas. When I was a child, I heard stories at family reunions, funerals, and weddings. Nobody got paid either. I remember two ‘old maid’ aunts who told stories together, one giving half a sentence and the other one finishing it. Stories were usually personal, possibly even wild stories about the deceased at a funeral, or perhaps a legendary relative.”
Gary Carden was raised by his grandparents in a cove that’s now within the city limits of Sylva. Their house was “filled with the past,” he writes, and here he heard stories-funny, frightening, instructive, and just plain peculiar-about generations of family and neighbors, and legendary heroes.
After a long career that included fifteen years as a literature and drama teacher, Carden is now a full-time storyteller. He is the author of Mason Jars in the Flood, a collection of stories which won the Appalachian Writers Association Book of the Year prize. Carden’s earlier collection of stories, Belled Buzzards, Hucksters and Grieving Spirits, was co-authored with Nina Anderson. He was the narrator of and “chief inspiration,” according to Neal Hutcheson, for the 2005 PBS documentary Mountain Talk, and collaborated with Tom Davenport on From the Brothers Grimm: A Contemporary Retelling of American Folktales and Classic Stories. He has taught at the Highlands and Lake Junaluska Elderhostels for more than twenty years.
Carden is also an award-winning playwright whose works have been produced throughout the South and across the country. His plays, including The Raindrop Waltz, Land’s End, and Birdell are based upon his stories. His play The Prince of Dark Corners is based on the life of the outlaw Major Lewis Redmond and is now a film featured on PBS. Carden’s most recent play, Outlander, is about the creation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and premiered at the Parkway Playhouse in 2012.
In recent years, Carden has taken up painting as another medium for sharing stories.
Among the many other awards he has received is the 2006 Brown-Hudson Award from the North Carolina Folklore Society and the 2012 North Carolina Award for Literature. Carden has an honorary doctorate from Western Carolina University for his work in storytelling and folklore.
Gary Carden gives seminars and workshops in storytelling, folklore, and Appalachian and Cherokee history. He gives storytelling performances at civic clubs, schools, and special events.