Nelson Lauver:
the American Story-Teller

An interview by Tom Knapp

Editor's Note: This is a success story about a man I had the pleasure to interview in 1999. It's about a person who recognized adversity in his life and, instead of accepting it, he found the conviction and strength to overcome it. But, to me, one of the most interesting points of the story is in the very first line: this was a storyteller who couldn't tell his stories to a live audience.

Well, Nelson Lauver recently contacted me. He came across this story from so long ago and he wanted me to know the sequel. Not only did he overcome that problem as well, he now makes his living sharing his stories -- and his story -- to audiences all the time. He's a motivational speaker, which is truly quite remarkable given the disability he faced. You can learn more at his website, in the meantime, please enjoy this story about a midpoint in Nelson's personal journey.
-- 21 Dec. 2007

Nelson Lauver is a professional storyteller who can't tell his stories in public. He gets too emotional.

"They become so close to me," he explains. "Often they are about people who are close to me."

In the recording studio, says 35-year-old Lauver, of Mifflintown, Pa., "I have to go over and over and over them again until I can tell them without getting emotional." He says it's even difficult for him to listen to his audio book, The American Story-Teller, a collection of 19 stories of heroic deeds and ordinary lives.

From the ravages of cancer and perils of war to schoolyard races and questionable cold remedies, Lauver captures the flavor of folks in their everyday lives. He tells their tales with the easy familiarity of a good friend or close neighbor. Speaking slowly, with a warm, sonorous voice, he shares the pride of each accomplishment and the tears of every sorrow he relates. Each story resonates with personality and feeling.

Lauver, recently divorced, learns about friendship from a busload of rowdy kids. His dog, Sheena, teaches him the rigors of parenting. His Uncle Roy, a Juniata County farm boy, becomes a World War II gunner lost behind Nazi lines. His 7-year-old neighbor defies superstition with determination.

"There are stories all around us," Lauver says. "They're not hard to find. I don't go out and try to find a story, but every now and then I go out and hear one. It catches my ear." He doesn't look for knuckle-crunching action, suspense or surprises, either. The main ingredient of a good story, he claims, is plain human nature.

Using expressive voices to separate characters from narration, he sighs and chuckles his way through emotional moments and employs common vernacular in his speech.

Diagnosed late in life with dyslexia, Lauver grew up in Juniata County barely able to scrawl his name or decipher basic texts. He learned to read and write at age 29, and began collecting stories to practice his verbal skills. "I learn by listening," he says. "I grew up in a family that was very colorful and always told stories. And I'd listen for hours and hours."

He's gathering material for more audio books, including one that will feature his father's war accounts, and gives live motivational speeches promoting literacy and chronicling his own struggles with childhood disabilities. Lauver smiles each time someone tells him, "Y'know, the same thing happened to me."

"It doesn't matter how technologically advanced we become as a society," he says. "We still all subscribe to that basic human nature."

[ by Tom Knapp ]
5 August 1999