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Tipton shares 'signs' of expression

Storytelling came naturally from the family of Unicoi County native Libby Shelton Tipton.
Tipton added another story this past week, working with six members of the Jonesborough Storytellers Guild on a cross country trip to the National Storytelling Network (NSN) Conference held in Kansas City, Kan. The storytellers also made stops in Kentucky, Missouri and Indiana on their quest of “planting story seeds along the way from Jonesborough to Kansas City.”
After receiving a send off in Jonesborough on July 24, the guild members wrapped up their stint at the NSN this weekend.
Todd Love with Erwin Motors donated the use of a van for the trip.
“This is something I’m really passionate about,” Tipton said from her hotel room on Saturday, Aug. 1. “From all the trips we had, the only problem we had was figuring out where we would eat. That says a lot about the people who went on this trip. We’re great friends and we enjoy sharing stories from our area.”
Tipton served as an interpreter at each stop on the trip for those with hearing impairments. Born and raised in Flag Pond, Tipton has been an asset for the local storytelling community, according Jo Anne Jones with the Jonesborough Storytellers Guild.
“To me, Libby is one of those ‘hidden treasures’,” Jones said. “I always wondered why she hasn’t been written up a lot throughout the area. I first saw her interpreting at the National Storytelling Festival. She was smiling, expressive and so engaged with her audience that it was difficult not to watch her rather than the storyteller on stage.”
Interpretation came at early age, Tipton said. Her father, Glenn Shelton, and mother, Jane Ann, were both deaf. She became a professional interpreter in 1981 and went on to become nationally certified in 1987.
Jane Ann, who currently resides in Dallas, Texas, was instrumental in making interpretation become a fun profession, according to Tipton.
“She was very instrumental for the deaf community in Tennessee,” Tipton said about her mother, who served as a political lobbyist and was part of many boards to represent the deaf community. “She would tell me different ways of doing things; that’s where I received my informal training to start off.”
Tipton currently works at East Tennessee State University as an interpreter coordinator. She has worked at ETSU for 20 years as the lead deaf interpreter. Pursuing degrees at the university began a transition into storytelling, she said. Tipton is currently working for her master’s degree in storytelling.
While working in theatre classes at ETSU, transitioning into storytelling from acting came at ease.
“In theatre, you have a script,” she said. “In storytelling, you’re able to put your own spin on stories.”
And stories come in abundance for Tipton. Especially recounting stories of her father.
“He enjoyed making people laugh, and he loved KFC chicken,” Libby said with a laugh.
Tipton recalled a story of when she and her first husband took a hunting trip in the mountains at the current Rocky Fork State Park. She started off by recalling that her father would call her and her siblings in for dinner from the front porch when supper was ready.
“We went ahead and my father and brother were going to come later on,” she stated. “It was about 3 a.m. and we kept hearing noises. It was at the time I started remembering the stories about the Spivey Mountain Hatchet Man. So, needless to say I was scared, but as the noises got closer, it sounded familiar.”
Tipton paused, then laughed, recalling it was her father and her brother. Glenn was calling out for Tipton to tell her that supper was ready, as he carried a bucket of chicken KFC to the campsite.
“It was that late and there he was with a bucket of chicken,” she said.
It was those kind of memories that allow those moments in storytelling, Tipton explained. Whether it was Glenn’s stories of hunting or sharing a laugh, or Jane Ann making the trip to Nashville with Zane Whitson, the family epitomized the different types of stories of ‘Deaf Appalachia.’
“It isn’t looked at as a handicap,” Tipton said. “It is part of the culture of deaf Appalachia.”
Tipton carried over her father’s stories to a veteran’s affairs facility in Kansas City on Tuesday, July 27. Tipton currently has two sons – Willie and Thomas – enlisted in the military.
“When we got to the facility, the therapist said that we had 45 minutes,” Tipton said. “The therapist also warned us that the veterans would probably leave about 30 minutes into their stories and for us to not be offended.”
But that wasn’t the case, she added.
“It was a real spiritual moment,” Tipton said. “I went on last and everybody was still there and you could see the sparkle in veterans’ eyes. After we finished, you could see them cutting up and having fun. The therapist came up to us when we finished and said ‘that was amazing’.”