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Storyteller shares bit of herself in girl tales

Avid storyteller Billie Noakes is a master at weaving stories. Tales of a 6-year-old girl named Sal are near to her heart.

[Times photso: James Borchuck]
Storyteller Billie Noakes demonstrates performance poetry, setting a real-life event to rhyme and telling her story of Sal and the Scientific Method to 10th-graders at Pinellas Park High School on Wednesday.

By JULIANNE WU, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published November 20, 2002

PINELLAS PARK -- Billie Noakes has been a writer, editor, author and marketing consultant, but her passion is storytelling.

This weekend, Noakes again is in charge of the local version of Tellabration! 2002, an international storytelling festival happening at the same time in several countries.

Noakes' favorite character, a savvy, 6-year-old girl named Sal, is one of many to be found Saturday at the Pinellas Park Library.

"Sal is somewhat autobiographical," Noakes said. "There's always a kernel of truth in all my stories about her."

Noakes on Wednesday and Thursday shared her story of Sal and the Scientific Method with 10th-graders at Pinellas Park High School.

Sal must find a project for the upcoming science fair. After several attempts, she goes to a hardware store with her mother and decides to get some birdseed.

The project she settles on: trying to grow birds from birdseed.

As a guest lecturer at the high school, Noakes teaches students how to write their own personal history.

Noakes and her family moved from the Chicago area to Florida in 1969. A graduate of Seminole High School, Noakes, now 47, began writing when she was 17.

"I guess I always had it in me," Noakes said. "My grandfather was a photographer for the Chicago Tribune for 35 years and I guess it rubbed off on me. I didn't have any formal training except the School of Experience."

A former reporter and editor for the now-defunct Pinellas Park Beacon and a music magazine, Noakes has a full-time job as a medical marketing writer for Florida Health Care News in Temple Terrace.

Noakes said she invented Sal in 1992, when she was asked to give a presentation on one of her favorite children's books. She decided to write her own story.

Besides Sal and the Scientific Method, Noakes has published Sal's Balloon Adventure and Sal and the Entrepreneurial Spirits.

"I have seven more in various stages of writing or illustrating," said Noakes, who plans on 13 adventures in all. "I thought a baker's dozen would be a good number to work with."

She has told tales at the Pinellas County and South Florida Folk Festivals, Tampa's Earth Day celebration and as part of the Full Contact Poetry Troupe, which she helped form.

An avid advocate of the arts, Billie started the CAMS (Consortium for Art and Media Studies) Acoustic Coffeehouse in 1989 to provide a venue for local visual, literary and performance artists to present their original works. CAMS closed in 1993, but it provided a springboard for several musicians who now make their living with their art.

A former program manager for Vision Cable of Pinellas (now Time Warner), Noakes still hosts a monthly talk show called "In the Park," with interviews and activities in and around Pinellas Park and Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. It airs on Channel 47, a cable-access station.

Noakes also still hosts occasional jam sessions at her Pinellas Park home to foster the creative arts.

"In storytelling, it's wonderful to see people's eyes light up when they go to the same place you are when telling the story," Noakes said. "Adults, especially, become kids again."

Said Michael Bryan, director of the Seminole Community Library and also a member of the Tampa Bay Storytellers Guild: "She's a very clever lady, with a sly sense of humor. When she does her Sal stories, she doesn't read them -- she recites them from memory."

Storytelling festival

Tellabration! 2002, an international storytelling celebration, is 7-9 p.m. Saturday at the Pinellas Park Public Library, 7770 52nd St. N. Sponsored by the Tampa Bay Storytellers Guild and the Friends of the Pinellas Park Public Library, Tellabration is for everyone. Admission is free, but donations will be accepted. Parking available. For information, call Billie Noakes, 546-0731.

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