A Glimpse of Stories UnFolding with the Origami Swami

by Megan Hicks      ©2016

The marriage of storytelling and origami that I call Stories UnFolding began about thirty years ago, before I was even aware that “storytelling” is a Thing. I worked in a small Montessori school library, where our tiny collection of origami books created for our students a continuous source of fascination and frustration.

I felt their pain. I received my first origami book when I was nine years old, and there was absolutely no one in my family or my circle of friends who could help me decode the diagrams. I was on my own. Slowly, over a period of years, I began making sense of the instructions.

At the Montessori school, when word got out among the fifth grade boys that I could read origami diagrams, they gave up lunch, they came in early, they hung out after school in order to get help. But they couldn’t seem to retain the instructions from mid-afternoon until school started the next morning. “Where does that mountain fold go?” “When do you have to turn the paper over?” I might teach the same model to the same kid half a dozen times.

One day I tried to create a mental image that would stick and serve as a reminder for how the paper should look at the completion of a step. And then, full-blown, a story emerged. We were folding valentines, and I started telling them a story about a book (“book fold” — fold paper in half down the middle) that was dog-eared (turn the two outer corners down into identical tiny triangles), and oddly, the book was about a dog — a dog with a square white face and two tiny pink triangular shaped ears. The story continued, giving cues about what to do next, until it and the folding sequence came to the same happy conclusion: Ta da! Here’s your valentine. The next morning, every kid who had heard that story remembered how to fold that valentine.

I made up a story for folding a paper cup, a story about a little girl looking for her hat, two little wolves who couldn’t quite reach some ripe apples. And as I taught each step of a folding sequence with a new turn in the plot, the stories unfolding taught me a lot about how to tell a story — pacing, inflection, the importance of visualization as the words are being spoken, giving my voice over to the voice of the story, my face to the expression of the characters’ emotions, my body to their postures. I was teaching origami while I was learning about becoming a storyteller.

Ten years after all that, early on in my career as a solo spoken word performance artist I resented it when a librarian or a PTA cultural arts mom would hire me to “come do that thing you do with origami and storytelling. The kids just love it!” I always said, “Sure,” because I couldn’t (and still can’t) afford to turn down work. But inwardly I was disappointed that my paperfolding got as much or more attention than my brilliant way with words.

Now I know that a more appropriate response is a heartfelt “thank you!” to the powers that send me my livelihood. Today, I am delighted to share whatever creative work I can share wherever I can share it.

Storytelling. Origami. It’s all magic you pull from thin air. Anytime. Anywhere. Eminently portable. Contagious. And free!

Other useful links:

Origami USA — The place to start. You’ll find links to diagrams, sources for buying good origami paper and books, and listings of origami groups worldwide.

Origami Spirit — A video blog with clear instruction, beautiful production quality, and models ranging from very simple to complex.

The Adventures of Paperman Jack and the Origami Mommy — The first of fifteen installments I posted to my blog during June-July, 2013. A story with the same title is now a part of my performance repertoire. I recently condensed these fifteen installments into the following Tweet: Paperman said “I’m crazy but I ain’t retarded” and taught Origami Mommy about making art. Our common ground: The peace of paper.

Megan Hicks


 (540)371-6775 – megan@meganhicks.com

Here’s a link to a short YouTube that demonstrates that valentine I described:


Megan Hicks with origami


Photo credit: Kim Brundage Photography

Megan brings equal measures of talent, charisma, and humor to the storytelling stage. As the Origami Swami, she has employed the power of storytelling to demystify paperfolding for thousands of kids and grownups in the U.S. and abroad. Her fairy tales, both intact and fractured, delight children, inner children, imaginary friends and grownups – all at the same time. A favorite of audiences and organizers nationwide and on three other continents, Megan performs for schools, libraries, festivals, retirement communities, hospices, professional conferences, juvenile detention centers.

This blog series is a part of the LANES Connections Project. This task seeks to celebrate connections to other organizations, professions, and audiences to which we are joined through story. If you are joined through story with another organization, profession, setting or special audience, we would love for you to share your experiences with us in a blog.

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