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Story State: Fostering Innovative Storytelling

Story State 2024 Now Live! 

Libation and Legislation

WATCH: "Libation and Legislation" 

A film by Rex Jones. For more than 40 years, the Sun-n-Sand Motor Hotel in downtown Jackson, Miss., was alive with activity. Legislators stayed there while the legislature was in session. While not at the capitol building, legislators would carry on conversations, negotiations, and celebrations at the motel. In this film, former Mississippi representative Steve Holland walks through the derelict motel, remembering the fun times he had there over the previous decades. The Sun-n-Sand was demolished in 2021.

William Bill Scott

WATCH: William "Bill" Scott: "God bless America and the American soldier"

William "Bill" Scott was only 20 years old when he was sent to Korea to take part in the invasion of Incheon in 1951. Scott was a platoon leader, and commanded U.S. Army troops as they "advanced" -- on foot to Seoul, past the 38th parallel, on to the "Frozen Chosin" reservoir, and to the Yalu River on the border with China. Scott carried a fully automatic Thompson submachine gun, and was engaged frequently in "firefights" with North Korean and Chinese soldiers. Scott, who is originally from Clanton, Ala. and now lives in Columbus, Miss., was wounded by shrapnel at Chosin Reservoir. He came close to death when he was bayonetted by a North Korean soldier on the other side of the Yalu River. In this video, Scott tells stories from his time in Korea. Still images and video provided by the U.S. Navy, National Archives, and Internet Archives. Filmed and edited by Josh Foreman.

Stephen Holmes

WATCH: Stephen Holmes: "The most underrated state in the United States of America" 


Stephen Holmes served as the head of communications for The Home Depot, one of the largest companies in the world. He retired in Spring 2023. During his 16-year career at Home Depot, Holmes "led all internal and external communications, digital communications and content, events, branded merchandise and The Home Depot Foundation, where he served as president," PR Week wrote. Holmes grew up in Mississippi. In this interview with Steve Soltis, lecturer at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business, Holmes reflects on his upbringing, his time at Mississippi College and Ole Miss, trying to figure out how to make it as a professional, his rise in the PR world, challenges at Home Depot, and more. Soltis and Holmes try to understand what makes Mississippi fertile ground for storytellers.

A Boys' Club No More

WATCH: "A Boys' Club No More" 

Scouts BSA, formerly known as the Boy Scouts of America, celebrated in 2024 the fifth-year anniversary of allowing girls to join what was one of the oldest boys’ clubs around. This piece by Department of Communication faculty member Kevin Williams, also a local Scoutmaster, tells the story of the growing pains around that historic decision. Specifically, two Eagle Scouts, now Assistant Scoutmasters in Northeast Mississippi, relay their experiences and feelings about the transition as it occurred. The piece is interspersed with interviews and footage Williams gathered during the 2023 National Jamboree, the first BSA National Jamboree with female scout participants.

Michael Roy

WATCH: Michael "Birdcap" Roy: "The quickest way to legitimize you to your neighbors..." 

Michael "Birdcap" Roy is a visual artist from Escatawpa, Mississippi. Roy paints grand, colorful murals in cities across the United States. He was heavily influenced by the street art of Seoul, South Korea. He honed his style with Korean artists such as Junkhouse while living in Seoul in the early 2010s. Roy's work was exhibited at the Crosstown Concourse gallery in Memphis in February 2024. Roy lives and works in Memphis, though he travels frequently around the nation and world. Music provided by Moby. Filmed and edited by Josh Foreman.

Poland students

WATCH: From Mississippi to Poland: teaching those displaced by the Ukrainian war

Aliyah Necaise is a senior Music major at Mississippi State University. In the summer of 2023, she traveled to the XLO School in Torun, Poland, as part of the WIESCO teaching program. The goal of the program, according to its website, is to facilitate "English-speaking volunteers to become international ambassadors and build a world community." Necaise, who is originally from Gulfport, Miss., used her music background to teach students in Poland. Her students included Ukrainian children displaced by the ongoing war in Ukraine. Tonya Hays of Mississippi State University was awarded an Individual Project Grant FY 24 for $2,000 from the Mississippi Arts Commission, which supported the work of Aliyah in the theatre project In Torun Poland and sharing of the project at Southeastern Theatre Conference in March in Mobile. The Mississippi Arts Commission is a state agency serving more than two million people through grants and special initiatives that enhance communities, assist artists and arts organizations, promote arts education, and celebrate Mississippi’s cultural heritage. MAC is funded by the Mississippi Legislature, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Mississippi Endowment for the Arts at the Community Foundation for Mississippi, and other private sources. For more information, visit Filmed and edited by Victoria Bailey.

Steve Azar

WATCH: Steve Azar on why Mississippi produces great artists 

Country music legend Steve Azar gives his brief thoughts on why Mississippi produces great storytellers. Produced by Rex Jones. 


WATCH: A Chickasaw Tale: "How Rabbit tricked Turkey, with Bobcat" 

Why is it you never see rabbits and turkeys hanging out together? Dr. Brad Lieb, director of Chickasaw archaeology and field studies, tells us. In this ancient story passed down through centuries of oral tradition, Rabbit takes on the role of trickster to save his own skin. He promises Bobcat he can deliver a hearty meal in the form of a gobbler turkey, "the one with the big red legs." The story, passed down in the Chickasaw and Choctaw traditions, tells us how Rabbit adopted a new name and mesmerized Turkey with rhythmic drumming. Images provided by US Fish and Wildlife Service. Music provided by the Library of Congress. Filmed and edited by Josh Foreman.


WATCH: Steve Holland, the extended interview 

Steve Holland served as a Democratic representative in the Mississippi legislature from 1985 to 2020. He became a persuasive and effective legislator, describing himself how he encouraged cooperation in the many committees he chaired, and beyond the statehouse at places like the Sun-n-Sand Motor Hotel in Jackson, Miss. Holland was the subject of a documentary which premiered in 2024. In the documentary, made by Rex Jones (who also filmed this interview), Holland shows off his sharp wit, command of Southern colloquialisms, and tendency to mix the "sacred and profane," to great rhetorical effect. Holland, who is from Tupelo, Miss., owns Holland Funeral Directors in that city. The nation was introduced to Holland when GQ magazine wrote about, as the Daily Journal put it, "personalities and circumstances surrounding the sensational April arrest and release of Elvis impersonator Kevin Curtis of Corinth, initially accused on federal charges that he mailed poison-laden letters to President Barack Obama, U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker of Tupelo and Lee County Justice Court Judge Sadie Holland." In this extended, uncut interview with Holland, he reflects on his many years in the Mississippi legislature.

Watch the full 2023 Story State program 


WATCH: Rory Doyle: "I'll never forget my first bite of Chuck's burger"

Doyle talks about finding his home in the Mississippi Delta, writing about and photographing Chuck's Dairy Bar, and how to make it as a professional journalist.

Rory Doyle is a working photographer based in Cleveland, Mississippi in the rural Mississippi Delta. Doyle has remained committed to photographing Mississippi and the South, with a particular focus on sharing stories from the Delta. He was a 2018 Visual Artist Fellow through the Mississippi Arts Commission and National Endowment for the Arts. He won the 16th Annual Smithsonian Photo Contest in 2019, the 2019 Southern Prize from the South Arts organization, the 2019 Zeiss Photography Award, and the 2019 ZEKE Award for Documentary Photography. His work has been published in The New York Times, Washington Post, Smithsonian Magazine, Reuters, Wall Street Journal, ProPublica, ESPN, The Nature Conservancy, The Guardian, CNN, Huff Post and numerous outlets. Learn more about Rory at


WATCH: Dr. Brad Lieb: "That encounter began with violence, and it ended with violence" 

Dr. Lieb tells the story of Hernando de Soto's encounter with the Chickasaw in the winter of 1540-1541.

Dr. Brad Lieb is the Director of Chickasaw Nation Archaeology and Field Studies. In 2015, he was a member of the team that discovered numerous 16th-century Spanish artifacts at the Starkville Archaeological Complex — remnants of Hernando de Soto's 1540 expedition through the South. Dr. Lieb's research has been instrumental in showing that de Soto's party spent the winter of 1540-1541 in the vicinity of Starkville, Miss. Dr. Lieb has published extensively on the archaeology of the Chickasaw in the Southeast. 


WATCH: Dr. Saddiq Dzukogi: "People think it takes great talent to write poetry" 

Dr. Dzukogi reads three poems from his book, Your Crib, My Qibla. He talks about finding inspiration in the mundane, walking to discover writing topics, and the educational power of travel.

Dr. Saddiq Dzukogi is a poet and assistant professor of English at Mississippi State University. He is the author of Your Crib, My Qibla (University of Nebraska Press, 2021), winner of the 2021 Derek Walcott Prize for Poetry, and the 2022 Julie Suk Award. He is the recipient of numerous fellowships from the Nebraska Art Council, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Pen America, and Ebedi International Residency. His poetry is featured in various magazines including POETRY, Ploughshares, Kenyon Review, Poetry London, Guernica, Cincinnati Review, Gulf Coast, and Prairie Schooner. 

Six String Andrew

WATCH: "Six String" Andrew Sullivan: "When I turned six, my dad finally got me a guitar" 

Sullivan tells the story of falling in love with the guitar from an early age. He plays some blues songs, shows a video from his performance with Buddy Guy, and shares an original song.

"Six String" Andrew Sullivan is a 17-year-old blues prodigy. He first heard live blues music in Clarksdale when he was five years old and became friends with blues musicians such as Big A, who he still plays with and is inspired by. Andrew has also had the honor of playing with guitar legends such as Bob Margolin from the Muddy Waters Band, and Buddy Guy. He loves performing the blues at Ground Zero Blues Biloxi and meeting new blues fans on the Coast.


WATCH: Kamau Bostic: "Mississippi is a weird, underground artists' collective"

Bostic gives his thoughts on the Mississippi arts scenes, explains some of his best portraits, and give advice for aspiring photographers.

Kamau Bostic is a photographer for the Mabus Agency in Tupelo, Miss. He specializes in portraiture. As the Mabus Agency website put it, "Kamau is always looking for ways to add freshness where it’s least expected, which makes him a perfect fit for Mabus Agency. Kamau’s eye is artistic as well as accessible, honed by his unique blend of commercial experience and fine arts education. He constantly pushes his own boundaries to produce pieces that engage our clients’ audiences." Kamau is a graduate of Mississippi State University.


WATCH: Rachel Dangermond: At the 100 Men Hall, "the stories are still coming out" 

Dangermond tells the story of how she came to lead the historic Hundred Men Hall in Bay St. Louis, Miss. She shares some of her personal history, and history of the "Chitlin Circuit" in Mississippi.

Rachel Dangermond is the director of the 100 Men Hall in Bay St. Louis, Miss. She is a writer and award-winning investigative reporter. She founded Greenlight Global Research in 2011. She has been a speaker with the Department of Justice’s community policing initiative and has led trainings in anti-oppression. She served as a facilitator with the New Orleans Welcome Table, a race and equity dialogue under the Mayor’s office. She is a certified community mediator.


WATCH: Col. Christian Patterson: "Success is not a one-person show" 

Col. Christian Patterson is the commander of the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center in Vicksburg, Miss. Colonel Patterson received his commission as an Adjutant General (AG) Corps Officer from Louisiana State University in 1999. He has served in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and other places around the world in the past 20+ years. Col. Patterson has earned two Professional Achievement Awards from the Southern Public Relations Federation, an Advanced Practitioner of the Year award from the Public Relations Association of Mississippi, an Outstanding Professional of the Year – Practitioner award from the Public Relations Association of Mississippi — among many other civilian and military awards. 


WATCH: Bill Wilson: "You need to interact with people" 

Wilson talks about his love of painting people, how he became artist-in-residence at the Mississippi Governor's Mansion, and a key to success in the creative arts.

Bill Wilson is a lifelong artist whose primary medium is painting. He was the artist-in-residence at the Mississippi Governor's Mansion for three years. He painted many facets of the mansion during that time, and published The Mississippi Governor's Mansion: Memories of the People's Home with Gov. Phil Bryant. Wilson is the art director for American Spectator magazine. He has authored and illustrated several children's books, including The Fib. He also has a podcast, The Artthropologist




Watch the full 2022 Story State: Fostering Innovative Storytelling program 

WATCH: Genesis Be: "I guarantee your story can help somebody" 

Genesis Be is a native of Biloxi, Miss. She is a rapper, painter, speaker and activist who has advocated for racial healing, voting rights, changing the Mississippi flag, and other causes. She is the founder of


WATCH: Terry "Harmonica" Bean: "Everybody got the blues" 

Terry “Harmonica” Bean is a native of Pontotoc, Miss. He carries on the musical tradition of North Mississippi bluesmen such as Howlin’ Wolf, R.L Burnside, and Junior Kimbrough. He has recorded seven albums, played at innumerable events and festivals, and toured Europe and Africa playing the blues.


WATCH: Harry Bolick and Steve Soltis discuss Mississippi Fiddle Music 

Harry Bolick grew up visiting his relatives in Carroll County, Miss. He is one of the foremost scholars of Mississippi fiddle music. He has published “Fiddle Tunes from Mississippi, Commercial and Informal recordings 1920-2018” and “Mississippi Fiddle Tunes and Songs from the 1930s” (University Press of Mississippi), and plays and teaches the fiddle himself. Learn more at

Steve Soltis is a Public Relations Advisory Board member at Mississippi State University and Executive in Residence at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business. He is one of the original creators of the New Narrative Festival, from which Story State grew. 


WATCH: Harold "Doc" Comby: "When you put these things aside, you will have a good life" 

Harold “Doc” Comby is a native of the Choctaw Reservation near Philadelphia, Miss. He is an elder in the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, and has served his community in various roles for many years, including most recently as captain of operations for the police department there. His mother taught him traditional Choctaw culture growing up. He is an avid stickball practitioner and makes stickball sticks and balls. 


WATCH: Anne Martin: "It's the best thing you've ever put in your mouth" 

Anne Martin is a native of Greenville, Miss., where she spent 30 years as a broadcast journalist. She co-founded the Delta Hot Tamale Festival in 2012 and published “Delta Hot Tamales: History Stories and Recipes” (The History Press) in 2016. 


WATCH: Haley Montgomery: "Under the pecan tree is where my family gathered"

Haley Montgomery is a native of Noxubee County, Miss. She is the owner of Small Pond Graphics in Starkville, Miss., where she creates stunning watercolor paintings, graphics, prints, carvings, typography and more for clients. She has a guiding belief that stories told in words and pictures hold immense power. 


WATCH: Lynn Oldshue: "The most important person in the world is standing in front of you" 

Lynn Oldshue is a Yazoo City, Miss., native who has pursued her award-winning career as a journalist in Mobile, Ala. She explores the lives of everyday Southerners through interviews, photography and video, and publishes their stories on her website,


WATCH: Gabe Smith: "It's unglamorous work to be prepared" 

Gabe Smith is a longtime resident of Starkville, Miss. He has performed in the Starkville theatre scene for many years, and leads the Starkville Community Theatre as its executive director. He and his SCT colleagues are currently working hard on a production of Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5 the Musical!”


WATCH: Quentin Smith: "I try to go beyond the who, what, when, where, and why" 

Quentin Smith is a native of Tupelo, Miss. He is an award-winning broadcast journalist at WLBT in Jackson, Miss. At WLBT, he travels across central Mississippi interviewing and shooting video. 

Watch the Full 2021 Program

Anna Wolfe

WATCH: Anna Wolfe: "The people that drive the story" 

A closer look at one of Anna Wolfe's award-winning investigative stories. 

Filmed by Josh Foreman and edited by Ty Lancaster. 

Rick Looser 

WATCH: Rick Looser: "This Mississippi story" 

The creator of the Mississippi Believe It! campaign talks about changing perceptions, and creating a brighter future. 

Filmed by Josh Foreman and edited by Susie Hunt. 

Francine Reynolds 

WATCH: Francine Reynolds: "How they lived and how we can learn from them"

The New Stage Theatre director on how history provides rich opportunities for theatre. 

Filmed by Josh Foreman and edited by Chris Misun. 

Duwayne Burnside 

WATCH: Duwayne Burnside: "Suck in everything you can get" 

The Hill Country bluesman talks connecting with an audience. 

Filmed by Josh Foreman and edited by Chris Dougherty. Special thanks to Dan Torigoe and Dolceola Recordings for providing "Meet Me in the City" 

Benjamin Saulsberry

WATCH: Benjamin Saulsberry: "Racial reconciliation begins with telling the truth"

The museum coordinator tells of how Tallahatchie County, Mississippi, began to move forward after the murder of Emmett Till. 

Filmed by Josh Foreman and edited by Carrington Ashford. 

Steve Soltis, Benjamin West, Paul Summers, Derek Irby, and Jean Irby 

WATCH: Steve Soltis, Benjamin West, Paul Summers, Derek Irby, and Jean Irby: "Make that product as good as it can be, and then let it tell its story" 

Steve Soltis leads a roundtable discussion with leaders in the craft brewing and winemaking world. 

Organized and produced by Steve Soltis. 

Michael Williams 

WATCH: Michael Williams: "If you are motivated, your audience will know" 

The filmmaker shares one of the keys to artistic success: making sure every creative choice is motivated. 

Filmed by Josh Foreman and edited by Jay Anderson. 

Ryan Starrett 

WATCH: Ryan Starrett: "The dead are not dead" 

The author explains that those who came before us can teach us a lot about making a more beautiful society. 

Filmed by Josh Foreman and edited by Ethan Foster. 

Zach Lancaster 

WATCH: Zach Lancaster: "Sound helps blossom the story" 

The sound mixer explains how sound adds a vital depth to visual storytelling. 

Filmed by Josh Foreman and edited by Michael Maxwell.

Tonya Hays and Jonathan Harris 

WATCH: Jonathan Harris and Tonya Hays: "To push for a betterment of the future" 

The pair talk about how "Hello Opportunity," their award-winning play about climate change, came into existence. 

Filmed by Josh Foreman and edited by Keegan Lindsey.

David Garraway

WATCH: David Garraway: "Five things I wish I had known when I started in television" 

Produced by David Garraway.

The director shares five fundamental tips for artists. 

StoryState Info Poster PDF

Photos on this site by Carol Highsmith and accessed through the Library of Congress