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Author Interview: Tim Tingle

2011 April 30
by Marie Penny
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Tim Tingle is a Choctaw author and storyteller who recently contributed to Trickster: Native American Tales-A Graphic Collection, a 2011 YALSA Great Graphic Novel for Teens book.
I had the pleasure of speaking with this gifted speaker and writer and what follows is his thoughtful response to my questions:
Were you familiar with the graphic novel medium before contributing to Trickster?

Yes. I perform storytelling at schools and know that most middle-school students are excited by graphic novels. Many librarians have shared this with me, how they have seen reluctant readers flock to graphic novels. There is such an instant appeal with graphic novels. I also appreciate narrative-driven games. Some are very well-written, and game imagery often correlates with the imagery found in graphic novels.

What did you think when Matt Dembicki contacted you to contribute to Trickster? (note: Dembicki states in his author’s note that some storytellers were reluctant to contribute due to uncertainty about the book’s intentions.)
I was leap for joy happy! In addition to storytelling, I write books, and trying to pitch a book to a publisher is not always a simple process. So when someone contacts you directly, it is an honor! When I saw the others on board, including figureheads in the storytelling and literary community such as Joe Bruchac, there was no hesitation. Every tribe approaches their stories differently. My mentor, the Choctaw tribal storyteller Charley Jones says, “tell the stories”, but make sure the origin is acknowledged. The Choctaw tribe is very open, you don’t have to be Choctaw to tell the story, but you must respect the tribal origins. Matt Dembicki understood this, as well as the importance of the trickster tale.

Why did you choose to contribute Rabbit’s Choctaw Tail Tale?
Rabbit’s Choctaw Tail Tale is the most widely known and often told Choctaw story. It is the favorite story of my mentor Charley Jones. I have been performing this story for over twenty years, though this is the first time I have written it as a story. There are hundreds of Trickster Rabbit stories, but this simple tale provides an easy-to-understand social lesson.
You may have already guessed why I chose this story! (note: the rabbit character loves to talk and TT is a storyteller.)
Why did you choose illustrator Pat Lewis?
I enjoyed Pat’s sense of humor, whimsy, and comedic sensibility. This is a humorous tale; and though we didn’t need dark and realistic charcters, I was at first taken aback by Pat’s depiction of Rabbit. He was so funny to look at, so chubby, so over-the-top! Then I realized how perfect THIS Rabbit was for the story.

Do you have a preference for storytelling or writing books?
Call me back in an hour and might give you a different answer. I have always thought of myself as a writer, even though my first career was in storytelling. I write my own performance stories, even updated versions of Choctaw folktales, so writing has always been part of the process. While onstage, I allow spontaneity to shape my tellings. Though the stories have a written version, they are never told in exactly the same words. There is an intimacy that exists in live performance that can never be duplicated on the page.
However, a picture book will outlive the spoken word and can be celebrated and appreciated long after the creators are gone.

How is the trickster important for the YA audience?
Tricksters are everywhere, they are not just in American Indian tales, and they are alive and well today. Tricksters are celebrated in American Indian culture; they are labeled as “troublemaker” in Western culture. The trickster steps back to observe social norms, they see the humor in social situations. They know it is healthy to laugh at serious situations. They are willing to suffer the consequences of being a Trickster. Trickster stories are critical because they let us observe through the eyes of humor. There is value in humor; it should not be squashed. This can be insightful for young adults who are labeled “troublemakers” in school. Never hurt others with your humor, but never underestimate the joy of a life filled with laughter.
-Marie Penny
currently reading: Vietnamerica: A Family’s Journey by GB Tran

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2 Responses
  1. April 30, 2011

    Terrific interview of one of my favorite authors! YA readers might want to take a look at his picture books, CROSSING BOK CHITTO and SALTYPIE, and read them to younger readers (teens can read them to their little sibs).

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