Dr. Lisa Overholser is the fourth director of the St. Louis Storytelling Festival. The Festival was established in 1980 by Ron Turner, then associate dean, College of Arts and Sciences for Continuing Education-Extension at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, and Lynn Rubright, then a professional storyteller and professor of storytelling at Webster University. In 2019, the Festival reached 18,000 individuals; 15,000 were school students in levels pre-K through grade 12. The Festival’s school program is held at various community sites and schools. In 2019, the Festival’s school program involved more than forty regional as well as ten national and international tellers and reached over thirty schools. The Festival’s public program is held at diverse venues, including the Missouri Botanical Garden, the Gateway Arch National Park, Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site, Cahokia Mounds State Historical Site, performing arts venues like the Kranzberg Arts Center and the Lindenwood University Cultural Center, and public parks. With around 95% of its programming free to the public and all of its programming free to schools, the Festival is highly accessible. The Festival’s outreach program also brings storytellers to prisons, youth detention centers, and hospitals. The St. Louis Storytelling Festival is currently housed at the University of Missouri Extension, the engagement arm of the university system with its land-grant mission to provide reliable and relevant research-based community education to Missouri’s citizens. Specifically, the Festival is part of the MU Extension Community Arts Program, which supports arts-based community and economic development.

In 2017, Dr. Overholser received the Dr. Ronald J. Turner Global Endowment Award for developing an exchange program for students in Taiwan to tell stories in St. Louis. Dr. Overholser has taught numerous different postsecondary courses related to popular expressive culture. She plays piano, harpsichord, and marimba. She holds a PhD in folklore and ethnomusicology from Indiana University.

This interview includes excerpts from two conversations with Dr. Lisa Overholser. One took place on November 29, 2019. A second interview took place on July 1, 2020, after the St. Louis Storytelling Festival had been presented virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic.