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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Feven Getachew
Feven Getachew
May 6, 2024
Michael Lozada
Michael Lozada
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Nathan Hoffman
Nathan Hoffman
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Harvey Wilhelm `24.
Harvey Wilhelm
May 6, 2024

Grinnell students spread their wings at Moth Story Slam

Autumn McMillan 21 told a story about her relationship with her grandmother at the Moth Story Slam.
Autumn McMillan ’21 told a story about her relationship with her grandmother at the Moth Story Slam.

The Moth, a nonprofit dedicated to the craft of true personal storytelling with a mission to help build and create more empathy in the world, came to Grinnell this past weekend.

The Moth’s educational program spent their first time in Iowa working with 27 Grinnell students in two three-hour workshops to develop five-minute personal stories on the theme of transformation. On Sunday evening, ten randomly-picked students from the group of 27 performed their stories on stage. The Moth workshop starts with a large group discussion on the craft of storytelling before transitioning to three small groups where students develop stories from their own life through brainstorming, practice and feedback.

Through both the format of the workshops and the nature of storytelling, the students get an intimate look into each other’s lives. Hanna Campbell, the senior manager of The Moth’s education program reflected on student’s reactions to the program.

“There were students who shared that even though Grinnell’s a really small campus, there’s still people who you walk by every day you don’t say hello to or you might not know. In a situation like this, in a five-minute experience, you really get some insight into who people are,” said Campbell.

“I think people felt a lot more connected after the workshop and I think the world’s always in need these days of a lot of empathy … The more we can hear what people have experienced, the more it helps us build that empathy. It’s so rare in life to able to talk uninterrupted for five minutes and have everybody else just sort of listen.”

Gracee Wallach ’20 participated in the two-day workshop.

“I was in a small group with six or seven people and we just all shared our stories. It was just such a beautiful way to build connections and learn about someone … just by telling a story that they wanted to tell. … We just developed this really beautiful, loving community in these few days without doing a ton of intentional work and relationship-building,” said Wallach.

Robert Ludwig, the program associate for the Wilson Center for Innovation and Leadership, helped bring The Moth to Grinnell. The Wilson Center aims to help students become better leaders and innovators during and after college.

“Storytelling is really part of a kind of leadership skill . . . Story- telling isn’t just about telling a story, it’s also about active listening. Building those skills as a leader to actively listen to someone’s story gives students a chance on campus to kind of step outside of the bubble inside Grinnell to say ‘Oh, I know these fellow students, but I didn’t know that about them.’ They kind of build this empathy with the other students … empathy is a big part of leadership too,” said Ludwig.

Casey Donahue, a teaching artist with The Moth, emceed Grinnell's Story Slam.

Along with building empathy, Wallach sees storytelling as a fundamentally honest form of art. “It’s how I talk normally, how I normally tell stories, but just with a little bit extra thought … The whole idea of it is that it’s super conversational,” said Wallach.  The storytellers only practiced their stories twice in the workshop before performing.

“Art is so intentional and so manicured a lot of times and that’s the point is that it’s meticulously trying to do something or say something or be something, whereas the story has a lot of very human and casual elements because of the rules of The Moth.”

Last semester, Wallach took a class on the school-to-prison pipeline with a two-credit additional course exploring digital storytelling for social justice mostly through videos and infographics.

“Thinking about storytelling as a way to make the political personal and bring people into activist work. So that’s where I think about it from a social justice lens, and also just in the canvassing work that I’ve been doing and continuing to do in the election. Storytelling is such a big part of that as well – to build relationships with people around what’s important to them and what they value requires you to be vulnerable and you to tell your stories and figure out where your stories align.”

All Moth stories have some element of change over the course of their telling. To conceptualize this, the workshops emphasized the importance of the first and the last sentence.

Wallach, who wasn’t one of the 10 students picked to perform, has been saving her sentences. Her story begins with “I was an eccentric and outgoing kid growing up,” and ends with “The world is my kitchen table.” In between is a story of hundreds of people breaking into spontaneous dance in Washington Square Park.

The Moth’s visit has lit a spark for storytelling in Grinnell.

“Afterwards, everyone was just so excited and a group of us started talking about ‘We need to do this at Grinnell,’” said Wallach who, with other Moth-goers, is in the stages of creating a space on campus for storytelling. “I think we’re gonna call it The Crow,” said Wallach.

Using the open mic slot that was previously booked for the week be- fore spring break, the group plans to host a slam with workshops held in preparation. Additionally, the group plans for the stories to be streamed on KDIC afterwards. To hear this story, to tell your own and to connect with fellow Grinnellians, keep an eye out for The Crow.

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