Mary's early adventures in the storytelling spotlight led to a note on her report card, trips to the confessional, and smiles of delight on the faces of her 3rd grade classmates. When it was Mary's turn to stand in front of her class and tell what she had done over the weekend, she did not hesitate to describe how she rode her horse bareback. Carefully, she used her hands to demonstrate how she slid off the rump of her galloping horse, barely grabbing the tail. She showed them how she struggled to climb the tail, and then held tight to the mane to finish her ride.
The story was most convincing, especially from a girl who owned no horse. While her classmates were thrilled, her teacher recognized a disturbing lack of truth in need of correction instead of talent in need of encouragement and direction. A note to Mary's parents resulted in reminders that telling stories was sinful. For years Mary confessed her sins and struggled to overcome her talent. Thank goodness, she failed.
In 1983, after brief careers as a high school English teacher and a public library children's librarian, Mary embraced professional storytelling. With her ever-expanding repertoire, Mary delights audiences throughout the USA. She tells tales in a straightforward "just talking" style. Yes, she still uses her hands to help tell the tale. Today, when Mary takes the stage, the show unfolds in the hearts and minds of her audiences - just as it did for her 3rd grade classmates so many years ago.
Mary entertains audiences of adults, families, or children with Kentucky tales, world folk & fairy tales, plus a few myths, legends, true stories, and original fiction. She has told stories at storytelling festivals, performing arts festivals, conferences, universities, theatres, libraries, museums, schools, and private gatherings. Mary's storytelling is also listed in the Kentucky Performing Arts Directory, a juried directory of Kentucky's finest performers.
The Kentucky Humanities Council presents Mary's work through their Speakers Bureau, which offers her presentations "The Art of Storytelling" a look at the art form, "Liar, Liar, Storyteller" a romp through Kentucky's tall tale telling traditions, and "Feeding Nightmares" a visit with the creepy tales from Kentucky folklore.
While nothing can take the place of live storytelling where teller and audience share the same space, relating and responding to each other, you can watch Mary tell stories in informal videos posted to her YouTube Channel, listen to excerpts from her work at CDBaby where you can also download stories or purchase her CDs. Mary’s recordings have won several awards. Alligators, Bees & Surprise, Oh My! Folktales Revived won a Storytelling World Honor Award in the category Storytelling Recordings, Sisters All…and One Troll won an iParenting Media Award, a Parents’ Choice Gold Award and a Storytelling World Winner Award for storytelling recordings. Mary’s adaptation and retelling of “Stormwalker” on Some Dog and other Kentucky Wonders was named an Honor Title in Storytelling World Awards, Stories for Pre-Adolescent Listeners category.
Mary’s first book, Kentucky Folktales: Revealing Stories, Truths, and Outright Lies, a collection of twenty-six tales with each story followed by an essay that talks about the story and about some aspect of the art of storytelling, was published by University Press of Kentucky in 2012. Her book won an Anne Izard Storytellers’ Choice Award and a Storytelling World Winner Award in the storytelling collections category. Three of Mary's stories can be read in the anthologies, The Scenic Route: Stories from the Heartland; Best-Loved Stories Told at the National Storytelling Festival and Telling Stories: Fiction by Kentucky Feminists.
Mary also teaches the art of storytelling to others. She has trained teachers, librarians, speakers, and her storytelling colleagues. Mary also offers individual and small group coaching.
In addition to teaching teachers through workshops, Mary also encourages teachers to use storytelling techniques in their classrooms through her work as an artist in residence. Since 1989 Mary has promoted storytelling in Kentucky classrooms through her service as a Kentucky Arts Council Teaching Artist. Whether she is exploring stories with primary students, helping 4th graders write personal narratives, or teaching middle school students how to use the Artistic Response Process, Mary enjoys working with students and their teachers.
The Kentucky School Media Association presented Mary with the 1999-2000 Jesse Stuart Media Award. This award recognizes creative development in any medium of service to Kentucky schools. Mary received the award, not for a specific story or story recording, but for her body of work in the medium of storytelling. Past Jesse Stuart Media Award recipients include children's author and poet George Ella Lyons, the Kentucky Educational Television Network, and Kentucky's largest newspaper, The Louisville Courier-Journal. Mary is the first storyteller to receive this award.
In 2009 the National Storytelling Network honored Mary with a Circle of Excellence ORACLE Award, presented to artists recognized by their peers to be master storytellers who set the standards for excellence and have demonstrated, over a significant period of time, a commitment and dedication to the art of storytelling.
Mary also counts herself among the many dedicated members of the National Storytelling Network and the Kentucky Storytelling Association . In 2016 the National Storytelling Network again presented Mary with an ORACLE Award – this time for Distinguished National Service.
Mary and her husband Charles Wright live on a Frankfort, Kentucky hillside. With a wooded view from the windows and frequent deer, groundhogs, squirrels, birds and other wildlife in the yard, Mary and Charles enjoy a peace-filled life.
When asked, "Who is your favorite audience?" Mary's response hasn't changed since 3rd grade. "Whether I'm telling stories, teaching storytelling, or using storytelling in a classroom, my favorite audience is always the group in front of me." One thing has changed since 3rd grade. Instead of viewing herself as a sinner girl, Mary now proudly claims the title professional storyteller.