Profile: Will Hornyak
Published by Community Newspapers
Thursday, April 12, 2007
By K. Shawn Edgar
Milwaukie resident says storytelling is 'like a campfire'
Will Hornyak's work as a newspaper reporter started in high school and continued until his mid-twenties, helping to form his storyteller's sensibilities. His favorite assignment was finding interesting people, interviewing them, and then writing a story. Eventually a job opportunity as a carpenter drew him away. "I got a job in South America, and I think it was there that I started to get more interested in oral tradition," said the Milwaukie resident. "It was a combination of things. One was that I was learning Spanish, so I became more aware of the sound of words. And also, just the emotional power of language."
Speaking Spanish made Hornyak feel like a different person. "It made me pay attention to the sound of the language and the feel of the language, not just the meaning of the words," he said. When one steps outside of oneself he is able to see the world without his normal filters, and then his potential is increased. This is an essential experience for live storytellers, because telling is about transforming your personality into another's. The storyteller must learn to assume other voices to portray other lives. And Hornyak chose travel as his teacher.
He found that the culture of South America was imbued with the arts of poetry, folk music and mostly storytelling. "It wasn't a bad influence, being in a country where reciting poetry, telling stories and making your own music was part of an everyday thing," said the Marylhurst University teacher. "And that was the first time in my life I actually had time to read what I wanted to read. I was reading poetry, philosophy and theology -- all kinds of stuff."
Hornyak heard his first storyteller when he was 26 years old. This event affected him greatly. The teller performed Mark Twain and James Thurber -- American writer and cartoonist. He knew then storytelling was a powerful tool, a necessity for living. It gives one the ability to learn other people's stories, or to create one's own material in the moment and on the move.
"I first heard this guy Dr. Fish in San Fransisco. I also heard Jay O'Callahan, who is kind of a famous storyteller, and he really inspired me," said Hornyak.
It was a long journey for Hornyak from reporter to carpenter to professional teller of stories. He did not start out with that goal in mind. But each diverse experience along the way laid the ground work. "As time wore on, I had friends who were teachers in schools. I would go in sometimes and tell stories," said Hornyak. "It just seemed like the more I volunteered my time, the more opportunities there were."
At this point he began to read more Mexican fables, American folk stories and Russian fairy tales to build a repertoire from which to drew material. The seed was beginning to sprout. Another motivator for Hornyak was the men's movement of the 1980s and 1990s as professed by Michael Meade -- leader of the mythopoeic branch -- and Robert Bly.
They envisioned the weaving of storytelling and mythology used for social causes such as helping war veterans, at-risk youth and prison overpopulation. This appealed to Hornyak because story and myth can work together on many different levels.
"It's like a campfire," Hornyak suggests. "It can give people something to sit around, and it can help illuminate ideas for them the way fire does; it can help warm them the way fire does; they can look into it and talk about life. And that's why I think storytelling is valuable -- it is something that people can gather around and it will help create discussion, drew out humor, knowledge and wisdom."