2024 Flatwater Tales

Thanks to our Major Corporate Sponsors:

Ms. Sheila Returns to Oak Ridge in February to Present Scarboro 85!

Flatwater Tales commissioned master storyteller Sheila Arnold to write and tell the story of the Scarboro 85 in 2022.  The Scarboro 85 are the brave youngsters who were required to desegregate Robertsville Junior High and Oak Ridge High School in 1955, the first school desegregation in the Southeast.

There was no violence so there were no headlines, and people still do not know the story.

The 85 young people had to leave a school where they were supported and loved to catch buses to go where?  They went to places where they were tolerated, yet not really wanted.

Ms. Sheila, as she is known on the national storytelling circuit, has captured the angst of those courageous young people in her story.  She received a standing ovation when she first told the story at the 2022 Flatwater Tales Storytelling Festival in the Historic Grove Theater.

Now, the Tennessee Arts Commission has awarded a grant to Flatwater Tales to bring Ms. Sheila back to Oak Ridge in February, during Black history month.

Ms. Sheila will appear nine times in Oak Ridge during the week of February 20 to 23, including Robertsville Middle School and Oak Ridge High School, where it all began, as well as Jefferson Middle School.

She will appear in four FREE public performances for the entire community.

Ms. Sheila has credentials as a compelling performing artist and a respected historical consultant.

Oak Ridge is fortunate to have a brilliant artist write and tell its story.  The schedule for the free public performances is posted on the flyer below.

The Scarboro 85 Week Coming this February

MORE ABOUT Ms. Sheila!


Within History’s Alive! Sheila provides

    • storytelling programs,
    • historical consultant work,
    • storytelling and history workshops,
    • historical character presentations, and
    • professional development

at schools, churches, libraries, museums, conferences, and festivals and for professional, civil, historical, and ministerial organizations nationally and internationally. Beginning in 2003 Sheila has been distinguished and recognized as an exceptional artist with several fellowships and residencies including:

    • Hewnoaks Artist Colony summer residency (2019)
    • Vernon (George Washington estate) Research Fellow (2020)
    • Ernest and Red Heller Artistic Fellowship at McDowell (2021)

Sheila is a Co-Founder and was the first Artistic Director of Artists Standing Strong Together (ASST, pronounced assist), a non-profit founded during the COVID-19 pandemic. This growing community aims to support the arts and artists through digital performance and exhibition opportunities, workshops, and an emergency support fund. The National Storytelling Network awarded Sheila and her Co-Founder Donna Washington the 2021 Distinguished National Service Award for their efforts with ASST.

In 2019 Sheila was honored to be the initial presenter/storyteller for “Freedom Stories”, the International Storytelling Center’s National Endowment of Humanities project. She is a sought-after historical consultant for museums/exhibit designers helping to develop engaging stories from historical documents, artifacts, buildings, and the historical use of land and water.  Sheila has presented/told/performed at educational conferences and teachers’ institutes, including Colonial Williamsburg Teacher Institute, Valley Forge Teacher Institute, Mt. Vernon Teacher Institute, Westchester Regional Social Studies Conference, and other educational conferences in New York, Louisiana, Virginia, South Carolina, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Mississippi, the National Council of Social Studies.  In addition, she has appeared for many Teaching American History Grant programs around the country.

As an Historical Consultant, Sheila worked with Montpelier in the creation of their short film, “The Mere Distinction of Colour”, a part of their African American exhibit.  In addition, she created scripts for Montpelier’s recreated buildings as portrayed by the enslaved persons on this site.  She worked in creating scripts for the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad project, collaborating with Abigail Schumann in creating a theatrical reading for the premier of historian Edward Ayers book, The Thin Light of Freedom. In 2021 Sheila was commissioned to craft and perform the story of the Scarboro 85 detailing the integration of the Oak Ridge Schools in 1955.  Sheila crafted a moving and engaging performance which was premiered as the featured story of the 2022 Flatwater Tales Storytelling Festival in Oak Ridge, TN. Called by her faith, Sheila also wrote and produced the full-length play, “And the Women Were There”, which focuses on 7 women who followed Jesus, and received local acclaim for this work.

Sheila has a long history of being a featured Storyteller at Storytelling Festivals nationally and internationally including:

    • National Storytelling Festival (Jonesborough, TN)
    • Timpanogos Storytelling Festival (Lehi, UT)
    • Toronto International Storytelling Festival (Toronto, ON)
    • Amsterdam Storytelling Festival (Netherlands)
    • Paris Storytelling Festival (Paris, KY)
    • Connecticut Storytelling Festival (New London, CT)
    • Georgia Mountain Storytelling Festival (Young Harris, GA)
    • Saint Louis Storytelling Festival (St. Louis, MO)
    • Flatwater Tales Storytelling Festival (Oak Ridge, TN)
    • Ojai Storytelling Festival (Ojai, CA)
    • Tejas Storytelling Festival (Denton, TX)
    • Culpeper Tells (Culpeper, VA)
    • Storytelling Festival of the Southeast (Laurinburg, NC)
    • Moonshell Storytelling Festival (Omaha, NE)
    • Stone Soup Storytelling Festival (Woodruff, SC)
    • Story Celebration Weekend (Kansas City, KS)
    • Florida Storytelling Festival (Mount Dora, FL)
    • The Clearwater Festival (Croton-on-Hudson, NY)
    • Lititz Storytelling Festival (Lititz, PA)
    • Colonial Williamsburg Storytelling Festival (Williamsburg, VA)

Previously, Sheila worked at Colonial Williamsburg Foundation embracing many roles including Coordinator with the Teacher Institute, Public Relations, Event Manager, and Storyteller/Theatrical Interpreter.  She has also been a Social Worker, Hampton City Schools Substitute Teacher and a Mary Kay, Inc. Independent Senior Beauty Consultant.  She is a graduate of UNC-Charlotte with a B.A. in African American & African History.

Sheila has authored two books:  a picture book, “Weeping Willow, or, Why the Leaves Change their Colors”, and an historical fiction using biblical persons, “David’s Mighty Man:  Benaiah”.  At the National Storytelling Festival 2023 she debuted her first USB “All That and a Bag of …Stories”, a compilation of four full albums on one device.  In 2023 she released two new albums “P.P.P. –  Particularly Productive Pandemic” and “The Least, the Lost and the Left Behind” available on most streaming platforms.  Books and her USB drive can be purchased by contacting Sheila at [email protected] or through her website, www.mssheila.org.

Sheila lives in Hampton, VA close to her son, Kristopher; her grandsons, Brooklyn and KJ, and her father and stepmother, Wallace & Vera Arnold.  She also communicates often with her Atlanta-based sister, Stephanie.

History Flatwater Tales

2018, the Inaugural Flatwater Tales

On Sunday, June 3 the inaugural Flatwater Tales Storytelling Festival, supported by a generous grant from the Oak Ridge Fund for Achieving Community Excellence (ORFace), presented the magic of live storytelling with two performances by three world-class tellers, Bil LeppTim Lowry, and Minton Sparks with guitarist John Jackson. Held at the Oak Ridge Playhouse in Historic Jackson Square, it was an Oak Ridge 75th Birthday event that offered different stories at each show. Performances were from 2 to 5 p.m. and 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.

Our tellers have achieved national and international recognition and appear regularly at festivals, including the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, TN. Their mesmerizing performances will bring people together to share the magic of this increasingly popular art form.

Kiran Singh Sirah, President of the International Storytelling Center in Jonesborough, TN, honored us by making opening remarks to help inaugurate Flatwater Tales, Oak Ridge’s first storytelling festival.

The Storytelling was the final event of the Flatwater Festival weekend, an annual all-volunteer effort led by the three Oak Ridge Rotary Clubs to entertain and to raise funds for local grants and projects. It kicked off on Friday, June 1 with a 3 hour interactive writing workshop, “Create Your Own Story,” with Minton Sparks.

On Saturday, June 2, the Flatwater Festival continueed on the waterfront from noon to 9 PM. It featureed live music, beer, wine, food trucks, activities for kids, a team-building regatta, cardboard boat races, and much more.

Flatwater Tales Storytelling concluded the weekend with shows from 2 to 5 and 6:30 to 9:30 PM.

“If you can’t go to the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough be sure to come to the Flatwater Tales Storytelling Festival in Oak Ridge.”

2019, the 2nd Annual Flatwater Tales
Storytelling Festival!

The 2019 Flatwater Tales Storytelling Festival in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, washeld from May 31 through June 1.

On Saturday, June 1, the 2nd Annual Flatwater Tales Storytelling Festival presented three performances by three world-class tellers: Carmen Agra DeedyBil Lepp, and Bobby Norfolk. The event moved to the Historic Grove Theatre in Grove Center, Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The tellers shared different stories at each show. The performances were held from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. (Family Show), from 2 to 5 p.m., and from 7 to 10 p.m.

Our tellers have achieved international recognition and appear regularly at festivals, including the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee. Their mesmerizing performances bring people together to share the magic of this time-honored, increasingly popular art form.

The storytelling weekend kicked off on Friday, May 31, with a writing workshop. Minton Sparks returned to conduct a 3-hour interactive writing workshop, “My Crazy Kin—Transform Your Family Stories into a Compelling Personal Narrative.”

2020, the 3rd Annual Flatwater Tales
Storytelling Festival Posponed!

The 3rd Annual Flatwater Tales Storytelling Festival planned live storytelling with 3 performances by 3 world-class tellers! The Covid19 pandemic forced the show to be rescheduled in 2021.

Set for Saturday, June 6, 2020, the 3rd Annual Flatwater Tales Storytelling Festival had scheduled  Andy Offutt Irwin, Bil Lepp, and Kim Weitkamp to conduct three performances at the Historic Grove Theater in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, with different stories at each show. The performances were to be from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. (Family Show), from 2 to 5 p.m., and 7 to 10 p.m.

Andy, Bil, and Kim agreed to join us all back in Oak Ridge in June 2021! And meanwhile we are continuing with a significant project to help our venue, the Historic Grove Theater become even better as a significant cultural landmark in our area.

2021, the 4th Annual Flatwater Tales
Storytelling Festival was Virtual!

Our featured storytellers were three acclaimed performers: Andy Offutt Irwin, Bil Lepp, and Kim Weitkamp, known to audiences nationwide for their wit, wisdom and abilities to make audiences laugh, cry and reminisce.

The three tellers recorded a live show before a small audience exclusively for Flatwater Tales. This performance included an unrehearsed improv segment, hosted by emcee Paula Gordon Lepp, a new feature in the storytelling world. Their stories are already unpredictable, and the improv portion built on their creativity and spontaneous story-making. A “blooper” roll and a live after-party will concluded the event. Earlier in the day, each of the tellers led a virtual workshop on aspects of their craft.

Technical aspects of our virtual event was professionally produced by veteran virtual technical artists Six Feet Apart Productions.

Flatwater Tales Created For Oak Ridge Residents and Visitors

This is an annual event offered by the three Rotary Clubs in Oak Ridge. The festival’s goals are to help bring our community together, introduce others to Oak Ridge, support local economic activity, and raise funds for the clubs’ community projects.

We expect to grow Flatwater Tales to include local and regional lore, music, and history, and to help share the Oak Ridge story – past, present, and future – with a wider audience. We want to expand our storytelling training to include helping children, seniors, and veterans find their voices using this age-old art form.

The Oak Ridge Fund for Achieving Community Excellence (ORFace) deemed this project an important addition to the culture of Oak Ridge, long known for outstanding achievement in science, education and the arts. ORFace’s first grant was significant in its support of the first presentation of Flatwater Tales.

ORFace is an affiliate fund of the East Tennessee Foundation, which has supported the 25 counties of East Tennessee through more that $336 million in grants made to worthy projects since 1986.