by Tiffany L. Hill
More often than not, we don’t even realize that we’re telling stories—all day, every day, said Robert B. Smyth, the president of Yellow Moon Press, a small, independent, non-profit publishing company located in Wilson Square.
“Contemporary storytelling is, in a very real sense, the same thing as ancient storytelling. Whether someone is retelling a folktale or telling a personal story, the goal is to give life meaning through the use of story,” Smyth said.
“You can have a debate about how personal storytelling is different than folktale, fairy tale or myth, but it’s doing the same thing, and it’s why we’re drawn to it,” he said.
“The Yellow Moon Press is committed to publishing material from the various arts of the oral tradition. It is our goal to make available material that both explores the history of the oral tradition and breathes new life into it,” according to its catalog.
“I first realized storytelling was as important as it is in the 1970s, when I went to Robert Bly’s Second Annual Conference on the Great Mother and the New Father,” said Smyth.
“Before that point I was very interested in poetry, but what drew me to poetry was hearing it spoken. Hearing the poetry of Allen Ginsberg or Gary Snyder, for example, really brought out the rhythm and evocative nature of the voice,” he said.
“At the Great Mother Conference I heard, among others, the storyteller Gioia Timpanelli, and I realized that story and poetry do the same things, and that my interest encompasses storytelling,” he said.
Smyth said, “I came up with the idea that I was going to do small books, at first, from new and emerging voices. I started to work on my first project, a book of poetry called ‘Night and Sleep,’ which was poetry of the ancient Persian poet Rumi translated by Robert Bly and Coleman Barks. It was the first collection of Rumi published.”
After that, Smyth said, he got involved with the storytelling community, both in the Boston area and nationally. He began by releasing a collection of stories from Boston area storytellers.
“I started to tape and release live sessions of the Storytellers in Concert series. I released several tapes, and then moved to studio recording,” he said.
Twenty-five years and 50 titles later, Yellow Moon Press is settled in the city. “The Somerville storefront came along about five years ago. Before that the Press was run out of my house, but when this showed up, it was the right thing to do,” said Smyth.
“Somerville has a very vibrant art community. The Somerville Arts Council does a tremendous job nurturing all forms of the arts,” he said.
Yellow Moon Press releases two-four titles a year, he said. “Right now we’re excited about a CD version of “Challah and Latkes,” Cindy Rivka Marshall’s collection of holiday stories for Shabbat and Hannukah.
“We’re also heading in sort of a new direction with a CD of Gioia Timpanelli’s reading of her fiction, ‘Sometimes the Soul.’ It’s a new direction for us because we don’t usually publish fiction, but this is fiction based in the oral tradition—new versions of folktales and stories.
“Next spring we’re going to release a book about how stories can heal,” Smyth said.
Yellow Moon Press does much of its business at storytelling conferences and festivals around the country, as well as from sales to individuals interested in story. Its books are often used as class texts, both at the college level and for elementary school author appearances. Individuals can find Yellow Moon Press on the World Wide Web and in its Wilson Square bookstore , said Smyth.
“The oral tradition is the way we communicate and pass on information about our heritage, culture, families and communities. It’s the way we give our lives meaning,” said Smyth.
“It’s been part of the human existence for thousands of years. Poetry, song and story have existed since the cavemen. Pictures on cave walls and the temples in Vietnam, the Middle East, or Africa, whether they are Buddha, Yahweh or Christ, are all stories.”