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Longtime storyteller, new memoirist Bobby Norfolk on the power of stories: ‘It is missionary work’

Storyteller Bobby Norfolk's 'Take the A Train' opens Jan. 10, 2015.
Courtesy of Bobby Norfolk
Longtime storyteller Bobby Norfolk recently released a memoir entitled “Eye to the Sky: Storytelling on the Edge of Magic.” It took five years to write.";s:

To Bobby Norfolk, three-time Emmy Award-winning television host, standup comedian, living history park ranger with the National Park Service and storyteller on the national scene, storytelling is no laughing matter.

“It is missionary work,” Norfolk told Steve Potter on Thursday’s “St. Louis on the Air.” If you go into storytelling, it is a serious, serious endeavor.”

While Norfolk has been telling stories for 25 years, this year marks the first he is turning his talents on himself. Norfolk recently released a memoir entitled “Eye to the Sky: Storytelling on the Edge of Magic.” It took five years to write.

In it, Norfolk recounts stories from his youth growing up in the city of St. Louis, attending UMSL, his standup comedy days, working as a park ranger at the Gateway Arch and his national and international travels to tell stories.

Related: Storyteller Brings Harlem Renaissance To St. Louis

Here are three things we learned about Norfolk during his interview on “St. Louis on the Air:”

1. He first learned the art of storytelling from listening to the radio. (That’s something we like to hear!)

“It is theater of the mind. I was raised on radio. When I was a kid, living on Enright Avenue, I listened to the ‘Gangbusters,’ ‘Lone Ranger,’ ‘Amos and Andy,’ ‘The Creaking Door,’ ‘The Shadow.’ ‘What evil lurks in the hearts of men? Only the shadow knows.’ What more power of the spoken word can you have than early radio? That is what I was weaned on.”

2. He doesn’t particularly like talking about himself.

“I think that is the mark of standup comedians, who are usually bashful and shy and self-effacing.  I always wanted to talk about other things other than ‘I.’ It was like peeling back the onion to get into the personal stories and then to actually make them funny.”

3. He considers stories for adults and children alike.

“There are so many morals and ethics that are buried in stories. Since its inception, all around the planet, stories were meant for adults first. People find it amusing that when you hear that adults and teenagers are going to hear stories … it was meant for them first. Hear the story and pass it on.”

Listen as Norfolk recounts his “first introduction to gravity” by pretending to be Superman at age three, his take on high school football and concussions, martial arts, climate change and more tales from his past in this broad-ranging interview:

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region. 

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Kelly Moffitt joined St. Louis Public Radio in 2015 as an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio's talk shows St. Louis on the Air.