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Liar's Contest celebrates tall tales

Courtesy photo
Bil Lepp tells a whopper during the 2011 Vandalia Gathering Liar's Contest.
See also: 2012 Vandalia Gathering scheduleWANT TO GO?The Liar's Contest at Vandalia GatheringWHERE: Culture Center TheaterWHEN: 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday (registration 12 to 1 p.m.)TICKETS: FreeINFO: 304-558-0220 or, W.Va. -- The thing about the Vandalia Gathering's Liar's Contest is that it's not really a contest for liars. Run of the mill fabricators, fabulists and fibbers need not apply.Bill Hairston, one of the judges for Sunday's contest and a member in good standing of the West Virginia Storytelling Guild, said if you're in it to win it, you better be able to keep your story straight.This will be Hairston's second time as one of the three judges. He'll be joined by Rich Knoblich and the Earl of Elkview, George Daugherty. Hairston said, "The Liar's Contest brings in some of West Virginia's most creative people. It takes a very bright and creative person to come up with a story and hold it together."Humor helps, he added, but it isn't absolutely required."Over the years, I've seen some people tell some very serious stories about disasters, about their community -- and they're great stories." He sighed, then added, "But...humor wins out."Hairston looks forward to the contest every year, and even when he's not a judge, he likes to go and listen. He's not so enthusiastic about the name of the contest, though.A pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Kanawha City, he is a little uncomfortable with the name.
"Sometimes you don't really want the name 'liar' associated with your profession," he said, but that applies to more than just his job serving God.Hairston has been a professional storyteller for about 25 years."That's when people started paying me to tell stories," he laughed. "But I've been a storyteller and a lover of stories all my life."Hairston grew up on the Coal River, where storytellers surrounded him. His grandfather, he remembered, loved to tell stories, as did his uncle, a minister, who worked stories into his sermons."I listened and learned at their feet," he said.Later, his family moved to Charleston's West Side.
"I remember sitting under a great big tree at the VFW and listening to them share and tell stories while they passed a bottle around." Hairston added, "Kids could listen, but they could not participate."Becoming a storyteller felt natural, but making a living at it is tricky."Oh, it's part-time," he said. "I have three jobs. I'm the pastor over at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Kanawha City, and I do outreach for the Religious Coalition for Community Renewal on the West Side."As a storyteller, he often works with children, tells his stories and teaches storytelling at libraries and schools, but storytelling can also be applied to grownups."I've worked with businesses," he said. "Like for a company merger, we've gone in and met with the executives. We start telling stories, and then after while, they start telling stories. It helps people to get to know each other a little."Telling stories bring people together, Hairston said, and sometimes a piece of well-told fiction can reveal truths in a way that is sometimes more profound than simply stating it as a fact."I love the idea of thinking and creating a story that someone can pull something out of," he said.That's what impresses him about storytelling, and it's a good plan if you want to compete in the Liar's Contest.Of course, it helps to be funny, too.Reach Bill Lynch at or 304-348-5195.
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