After a few years, I am glad to say Asheville Wordfest returns in 2023. In spirit of all resurrections and other bringings-back-to-life, it will be in a new form. I have changed. You have changed. The world has changed. The power of Story, though, has not changed.

Me with a sheep in a Faery Fort on the Dingle Peninsula

In this new design for Asheville Wordfest, mark your calendars for September 29-October 1 for a weekend of stories, drawn forth and shared to heal, to connect, to bind.

Best friends from childhood, Tara and me

A year ago, I traveled to Ireland with my best friend since middle school, Dr. Tara Ross, PhD (though that wasn’t her name in middle school). Tara is a historian and learning experience designer. While designing a course in higher education in refugee camps, she and her partner in learning experience design, Cindy, focused on Northern Ireland. There, they met people from all sides of the Troubles—all former sworn enemies—working together now to build peace.

James Greer and Anne Walker, Former Enemies, Northern Ireland Peace Builders

Peace requires tending. Shepherding. In a place that has been ravaged by violence, hate, and wounding, it needs to be built–and built and built and built using story to humanize those we would call “enemy.” On our trip, Tara introduced me to her friends who had shared their stories with her on her last visit to the North. We found deep resonance between their work and the work I engage in Narrative Healthcare courses at Lenoir-Rhyne University and in Creative Writing classes. Healing with words. The ancient work of words.

Sheep on the way up to Beltany Stone Circle, Donegal

The resonances were so deep, I knew I had found the new form for Asheville Wordfest, a gathering of Story Shepherds from around the world, whose worlds story has healed and held together even as those worlds have fallen apart.

Stones at Beltany

Northern Ireland is now 25 years into a Peace Accord that quieted the Troubles in 1998. Peace as we know is not something that we just snap our fingers and see. It requires our stories to build it. Story by story that says “No” to not being fully human anymore. Story by story, we assert our shared humanity, our places to belong. Story by story, we gather.

Tara and I with The Peace Builders

The term “story shepherd” has emerged softly and gently in our ongoing conversations, reflecting how tenderly story stirs, how quietly we listen. The Northern Irish Story Shepherds will join more story shepherds this Fall, September 29-October 1 in Black Mountain. We will be planning other locations, too, so let me know if you’d like to book.

In the meantime, peace.


Laura Hope-Gill

Beltany Stone Circle, Donegal, Ireland