The Power of Story

We gather at The Richard Hugo House in Seattle, chairs scattered around small tables, a simple podium up front on a platform. New City Theatre inhabited the space before it became a venue for the literary arts. What was once a stage for cabaret performances now hosts readings. There is a lot of energy between these walls and we tap into it.

Writers trickle in from as far as Portland. Students and alum of the MFA program in Creative Writing at Goddard, we try to do this sort of thing often because, as far as we are concerned, we have found our tribe. Except that it is smokeless, the room resembles a café scene in Greenwich Village back in the Beat Generation. A man and his poems, a woman and a piece from her memoir. Someone refers to “all the love in the room….” And I feel a nostalgia for that era of acoustical guitars and ballads, before everything in the arts became so heavily produced.

The long lost art of readings, where writings are offered as gifts. I come away from each one knowing I am holding and have been entrusted with an enormous bouquet. Readings reintroduce each one of us to the primal importance of story. At a reading we are in that heaven again and wonder why it ever stopped? Why that gap between childhood and graduate school without having been read to regularly? Parents get busy or children run off or everyone tells themselves, “oh well, she can read now on her own.” But it’s not the same.

I run a weekly writing workshop for seniors and start each session by reading a story aloud. The story suggests a prompt, and the participants bow their heads and write on that for an hour. And in that time I see so much joy on their faces. How often writing out an experience enhances it. While mining for memories, present aches and pains fall away. We bring ourselves home with stories, and give value to our lives. At the end of each session we all read what we have written. In listening to each other’s stories, we experience common human values. Lives link with the storyteller. The personal becomes universal, and another “tribe” is formed.

My father tells me he is fond of reading a book to my mother in bed. His voice is soothing, and she often falls asleep. At which point he keeps going, I think, reading aloud into the darkened room, giving the gift of story.


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8 responses to “The Power of Story

  1. Margot

    I love to read aloud. Often I read with the kids wandering about, they catch bits of it. It will later come up and I am always surprised that they were attending to it while appearing to be busy in their own heads and ideas. It’s a gift for sure.

  2. Lovely reflection on the importance of story in our lives, Kim. My grandson, Rafi, Shira tells me, has memorized the book I brought to him a couple of months ago, and he “reads”complete with inflections at the proper places. He knows the power of story at age 3.

  3. P. Mayer

    Recently when my wife… the author of this blog finished a novel, she read the entire story to me from begining to end. I think it took 9 hours. I have to say it was very enjoyable. I don’t think I have been read to an entire novel since I was probably age 7 or 8…

  4. Craig Kelly

    Print out this blog entry now and save it where you keep your most treasured works. Because, dear cousin, this is a flawlessly written piece from start to finish. It is astounding to read.

  5. Such a beautiful offering. Reading aloud harkens back to the days before print when stories were passed among families and tribes. It is quintessentially human to want to listen to story, to be fed by listening to another’s soothing voice
    . Thanks for this.

  6. Such a beautiful offering. Being read to harkens back to the time, pre-print, when all learning – about place and tribe and family and survival – was done through storytelling. So quintessentially human to be soothed by listening to story. Thanks for this.

  7. Alexander Finn

    Since my wife says she hates to be read to, I read to myself, more pronouncedly moving my lips with an audible murmmur if no one else is around. I’m an aural learner allowing the sound to paint a picture. Words are symbols to this primitive hunter who sees tracks in the mud but visualizes game, who hears the sounds of rustling leaves and the snap of broken twigs but sees and smells dinner on a roasting spit. I read your beautiful piece Kim, and languish in the scene. What a picture! Like hunters of our not-so-primative past, lounging around in a beautiful meadow on a sunny morning The fire is still smoldering and as we talk of yesterday’s hunt, we build an appetite for today’s.

  8. Reading aloud – storytelling – an art practiced mostly around campfires, in tents, and at family reunions. Great post!

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