About NYS

Building the future

National Youth Storytelling is building the future, not only of storytelling but the future of our youth, by promoting, encouraging, and teaching the art of story among young tellers.

Storytelling helps these youth

  • Enhance their imagination
  • Build confidence
  • Learn communication skills
  • Increase their understanding of the world around them
  • Prepare to become tomorrow’s teachers, community workers, and business leaders

Talented young storytellers come to the beautiful Wasatch Mountains of Utah to participate in this yearly event. We celebrate their hard work and unique talents, provide an association with others who share their passion for story and allow hearing some of the world’s best professional storytellers.

How it works

Find and prepare your story

During the year, young tellers, ages 8-18, participate in local storytelling events in classrooms, libraries, and youth festivals in their home states.

Record and submit a video

Tellers record themselves telling their stories and submit a link to their video using this registration form. Entries must be submitted by the last Friday in March.

Finalists are selected

Our national judges watch the audition videos and select finalists to represent the top youth storytellers for the year.

National Youth Storytellers are selected and receive invitations to participate by early May.

Finalists are invited to attend the NYS Showcase and perform at Timpanogos Storytelling Festival in early September in beautiful Utah.

Experience NYS

Participants meet other young storytellers, make life-long friendships, enjoy fun activities together, record their story in a professional recording studio, learn more about the art of storytelling, have opportunities to perform and then hear from some of the world’s best professional storytellers.

Meet the team

Lenore Guest

Lenore Guest

Storyteller Liaison

Torri Hall

Torri Hall


Ginger Parkinson

Ginger Parkinson

Showcase Guru

Nannette Guest-Watts

Nannette Guest-Watts


Our story

National youth storytelling has undergone many changes and been hosted in several locations over the years. It all began as National Storytelling Youth Olympics (NSYO) at East Tennessee State University. The program then moved to Hanford, California for a time, before moving back to Pigeon Forge, TN where it became National Youth Storytelling Showcase (NYSS), and finally renamed simply National Youth Storytelling in Utah. But the goal has remained the same, to promote and encourage the art of storytelling among middle school and high school students

Here is our story.

National Storytelling Youth Olympics

East Tennessee State University, Johnson City, TN

1996 – 2002

Inspired by the successful National Storytelling Festival in nearby Jonesborough, Dr. Flora Joy established the ETSU Communication and Storytelling Program for university students and began the National Storytelling Youth Olympics for younger students. The yearly event attracted hundreds of youth from grades 6 to 12 to compete against each other by telling stories. Although the event was competitive, its underlying goal was to provide students across the nation with a reason to practice numerous non-competitive skills. Those skills include skillful sportsmanship, responsible behavior, an attitude of respect for others, and the storytelling style. The hope was to encourage every classroom in America to discover or rediscover the beauty of storytelling and story performance.

Selected youth gathered from around the country to Johnson City, TN each year in early March. They participated by telling stories at local schools, gathered for playing games and making friends, and performed at the big event, where contestants were divided into three categories separated by grades and a winner was chosen and named Torchbearer from each category. An overall winner was also awarded the name of Grand Torchbearer.

National Youth Storytelling Olympics

Hanford, California

2002 – 2004

The program changed in location but retained the same structure it had in Tennessee. Kevin Cordi, a graduate student of Dr. Flora Joy, took the lead in directing the program in California. They crowned torchbearers in each age category and included a grand torchbearer overall. The torchbearers could return until they obtained the grand title, at which time they were asked to not return to the competition. The National Storytelling Network provided judges.

Students performed in two showcase performances and at area schools. NYSO performances were enjoyed in Hanford and Fresno, California. They were taken to a recording studio and recorded either audio or video performances. Young people and their families were scored on how well they interacted with other youth tellers.

Working alongside Kevin were a memorable and dynamic part of the committee Rachel Hedman (founder of Story Crossroads), along with ventriloquist Groark (the dragon) and Hans Christian Andersen impersonator, Randel McGee.

Kevin Cordi was accepted to a doctoral program to cap his degrees, so he and NSN helped NYSS find a new home in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee with the Smoky Mountain Storytelling Festival.

National Youth Storytelling Showcase

Pigeon Forge, TN

2005 – 2010

Educator Elizabeth Rose welcomed youth storytellers from across the nation to Pigeon Forge when she became the director. The name was first changed to the National Youth Storytelling Hall of Fame and then the National Youth Storytelling Showcase in 2006.

The competition portion continued even though the Olympic name was removed. Winners of each category were still considered torchbearers and a grand torchbearer was determined.

Elizabeth Rose used innovative techniques with video and a website to reach a nation full of potential young storytellers. The program flourished with the direction of Elizabeth and under the umbrella of the Smoky Mountains Storytelling Festival. 21 youth tellers were invited to compete.

Young storytellers attended workshops in conjunction with the Smoky Mountain Storytelling Festival and played together at fun venues in Pigeon Forge. They had the opportunity to tell their stories at area schools and performed at well-attended Showcase performances. Young tellers enjoyed seeing the power of youth storytelling all under one roof in one night. A highlight of the event was a sit-down Q&A with adult storytellers who made a living with the art.

The National Storytelling Network was still involved in providing judging and helping to host the Showcase event. With national arts funding drying up in 2011, it became time for the Festival and NYSS to find a new home. The National Storytelling Network and Dr. Kevin Cordi helped work out the details to allow Timpanogos Storytelling Festival to adopt the National Youth Storytelling Showcase program.

National Youth Storytelling

Utah County, UT

2011 – Today

Karen Ashton, founder, and nurturer of the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival, personally asked Nannette* Guest-Watts to take over direction of the NYSS under the Timpanogos Storytelling Institute. Nannette* was a working storyteller who, along with other parents took their children to California and Tennessee to participate in NSYO/NYSS.

After many years of building a successful program, the time came to return to Dr. Flora Joy’s original intent. The part families enjoyed most about participating in the national youth storytelling events was the source of what Flora had hoped to share; a love of storytelling, building the future of storytelling and generating friendships with other youth storytellers from other parts of the nation.

Competition is an end and stopping point, so it negated the goal of this event.
Dr. Joy had said, “The goal of the NYSS is to encourage every classroom in America to discover (or rediscover) the beauty and value of storytelling and story performance.” She also stated, “The sole purpose of this event is to promote and encourage both the art and science of storytelling among pre-adult communicators.”

NYS is the end and beginning. There is competition leading up to this final event. Thousands of youth tell stories in classroom, community, and state competitions to select representatives. There is competition all along the way. The youth who are named National Youth Storytelling finalists are free, knowing the competition is behind them. They can make friendships without the stress of competition. They represent their state and communities and are invited to become youth storytelling ambassadors for the coming year. They can look out for other youth storytellers and encourage them in the art and craft.

NYS has enjoyed a little different flavor each year by using the strong components of the past venues and pieces of the program. Storytellers can:

  • Tell stories together in venues that showcase them
  • Have discussions with the public about stories and the difference they make.
  • Tell stories at area schools
  • Attend workshops on story development, performance, and understanding the story at its core
  • Make audio and video recordings of their stories
  • Have face-to-face Q&A discussions with renowned working storytellers
  • Play together at local venues and ropes courses
  • Tell their stories at the top of the hour before storytellers who are the best in their craft, on a nationally renowned festival stage.

The storytellers visit, make friends, learn, and become youth ambassadors for storytelling for the coming year.

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