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George Dawes Green & Stories from "The Moth"

We’ll hit the rocking chairs with George Dawes Green, founder of the live storytelling event “The Moth.”

 

George Dawes Green

George Dawes Green

Novelist George Dawes Green grew up in Georgia, swapping stories.

On the porch, in the summer, sometimes all night long, with a moth circling the light. Telling stories, hearing stories, and loving them.

Then he moved to the big, busy city, and felt the storytelling slip away.  He started storytelling sessions in his living room.  A kind of club for raconteurs.  He called it “The Moth“.

Now it’s on the radio.  And all over the world.

This hour, On Point:  “The Moth” founder George Dawes Green on the human hunger for storytelling.

Guests:

George Dawes Green, bestselling novelist and founder of “The Moth,” a nonprofit storytelling club dedicated to the art of the raconteur. His book “Ravens” (read the first chapter of Ravensfind Ravens at Amazon) was named by Stephen King as one of the Ten Best Books of 2009. He is also the author of The Juror and The Caveman’s Valentine, both of which were made into movies.

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  • Joshua Hendrickson

    I have been arguing in school papers and speeches that fiction is more important than non-fiction. I find the preponderance of popular memoirs and tell-alls to be depressing, and am afraid that they will have a depressing effect on literature. Novels, though not so popular today, seem to me to have far greater value as art and as windows onto reality. As far as I am concerned, the lies of fiction reveal great truths, while the purported truths of non-fiction only serve to conceal reality. As I am not familiar with his work, I wonder, what does your guest think about the issue of fiction and non-fiction?

    This show is sure to be a delight!

  • http://www.norahdooley.com Norah Dooley

    “Language is a human instinct, but written language is not…Children are wired for sound, but print is an optional accessory that must be painstakingly bolted on. This basic fact about human nature should be the starting point for any discussion about how to teach our children to read and write.” – Steven Pinker

    Story is amazing on so many levels. It is meta-cognition, the natural format of our thinking. And storytelling is deeply satisfying entertainment because it engages us on so many levels. Our masssmouth story slams in the Boston area are filled with people of all ages enjoying a timeless art.

  • john

    …glad to hear that you are focusing on storytelling ..
    there a desperate need for the oral tradition to survive ..

    as an irishman living in boston for 24 years i find that the older generation crave this fading art ..
    in boston we see surge of change .. i believe that if there was more oral communication between the generations and ethnic groups we would have a more pleasant city…

    ITS NOT THE JOB OF AM RADIO STATION RANTS TO CREATE DIALOGUE..

  • Elizabeth Bayley

    I have enjoyed The Moth broadcast for about a year, after having discovered it through iTunes store. What a gem in this age of short attention spans and emphasis on the visual. I am lucky to live in Los Angeles where we have 3 story SLAMS per month. Big fan. Thank you George Dawes Green.

  • Art

    Our neighborhood Monday night poker game fosters some pretty good stories. i suspect that if it was defined as “Story Night” it would probably be more convoluted and less of a natural process.

  • Steve

    For many of us, stories pour out late into the night around campfires with good friends. When we are out in the woods camping, unplugged from distractions and with nothing on our “to-do” list but being together, haunting, hilarious, and heartbreaking narratives abound.

  • Larry Ford

    I live in a neighborhood built in the 1920′s in Salt Lake City, and all of the houses have a front porch, and when the weather is nice, people are on their porches and walking around, and the porches foster talking. During the summer you see neighbors talking to one another. Two blocks away, with newer homes lacking porches – you see people walking, but no one talking.

    I think the change in architecture, away from front porches, has changed the way we interact with one another (or else how we interact with each other is reflected in how we build our houses).

  • ellen

    the national storytellers festival in jonesboro tn. in october is one of the most wonderful events i have ever attended. it is a full weekend of singing, telling, ghost stories, etc, etc. i was doubtful of it until i went about 8 years ago. there are myriad kinds of tellers, and something for everyone. i cant wait to get back there finally this fall.

  • David

    Great show, Tom. Storytelling, for me, has always been best when it is spontaneous, involving family members sitting around the table at Passover (Passover itself is an interesting example of communal storytelling, isn’t it?). I would never ask for it, but would always eagerly await some cue–a comment, a joke, a dropped fork–that would trigger a memory and start one of my older relatives telling a story about their youth; their military service; or about a deceased relative that they remember, but whom I never met. Those stories gave me rich visual and auditory images that connected me to my family history and helped me figure out who I am and how I want to live my life.

  • http://coudremode.com Phyllis Craine

    The Moth is liternature at it’s most fundamental and it carries forth the oral tradition that goes back to ancient times. It’s right up there with the great myths and epic lengends told orally for millenia. Long live The Moth!

  • SMH

    George mentioned the evolutionary component to storytelling. That humans tell stories is not insignificant in our conversations about human evolution. What would your guest say about storytelling as a function of evolutionary survival, or not?

  • Rossy

    I live in New York City and I am lucky to have met Geroge back in 2000 when he invited me to my first Moth evening.
    Thank You George and hope to see you soon again!

  • kathy

    I don’t think a cocktail party is the place for a long “15″ minute story. I dread it when someone goes into a long boring tale.
    HOWEVER…. I love stories around a campfire or in a long car ride. The reason I read stories in books is that if I don’t like it halfway through I can put it down. There is no escape from a live person who is quite enchanted being center stage.

  • http://www.creativehealingconnections.org Fran Yardley

    Storytelling is SO powerful! We have developed an arts & healing retreat which is all about creating a safe space for women with cancer and chronic illness and now veterans to be able to tell their stories. We all hunger to tell what we hold inside us and also to be listened to.

  • Story Listener

    Suggestion.

    I love the show. I wish that each story was indexed and recorded, so that any story can be searched and heard again. It’s so frustrating to tell people about a really cool story you heard, and you can’t give them a link or a source so that they can experience for themselves!

    Anyways, keep up a good work.

  • Beverly

    In our area of the Low Country of South Crolina, the Salkehatchie region, we gather stories, combine them, and put on a performance using local actors. The stories when the Bomb plant came to Aiken, SC, to local stories of happenings in peoples lives. It is a wonderful experience, we love sharing our stories with
    Salkehatchie Stew.

  • Rosemary

    I love the Moth Hour. I live alone so it feels like I have a group of friends on-board while I listen to the Moth.

    thanks so much, Rosemary

  • Madeleine Hallum

    The best venue for storytelling that I have ever experienced is in an orphanage in Tanzania. I stayed in a house near the orphanage for several months and in those several weeks, people from all over the world came and passed through – for days or weeks. We would tell stories of our past, how we came to be here, and where we plan to go. I learned fascinating things about other countries and heart wrenching tales about my neighbors and new family in Tanzania.

  • keith stone

    brother blue!

  • Pat Nitchman

    I was heartened to hear the young mother talk of telling stories in the car. Our family did that too when our children were young. They didn’t care if they’d heard it before, and they have fond memories of those times. It makes me so sad to see young mothers or fathers texting, or on the phone, while driving or shopping or in a waiting room somewhere, completely ignoring their small childrens questions and missing a chance to interact one to one!!

  • Bambi Good

    In New England we are so very lucky to have a robust storytelling community. For years I took our children to the Three Apple Storytelling Festvial held in old buildings and on the village green of Harvard Mass. Thus began my love…… Now there are every-growing opportunities for adults and children to hear and tell stories.
    Adults of all ages and stripes and levels of experience in telling are flocking to story slams in Boston, surrounding cities, and other part of New England. People who want to find out what’s going on in New England can check out listings and see posted videos of stories told at previous slams at massmouth.com….. Story treasures and a community of people to treasure are awaiting those who check out this site.

  • Amy in Suffolk, VA

    I’ve lived in Virginia all my life. Funerals (in the South?) are a great place to hear and tell stories–usually about the “guest” of honor. We sit around, eating all the great food friends and neighbors have brought and tell tales that spur more almost-forgotten memories, many of which interweave with others’ stories. The tradition makes an unbearable event become a happy memory.

    I love the Moth and On Point.

  • Eric Gilbertson

    I grew up in northern Wisconsin without electricity and many neighbors with a variety of national orgins. Visiting and story telling over coffee and cookies was the entertainment. It was rich and varied. I guess I picked up the habit and tell stories often…..and get teased by my kids and colleagues. It was very nice that the kids got me a nice little tape recorder to record stories of my life……I was very flattered.
    I enjoy the moth.

  • Sam

    Not everyone is a good storyteller!

    I am the worst storyteller in the world, because I get sidetracked, and don’t stay with the story and most of the time, myself, will get bored and confused and it just turns into this looooong blaberring.

    Because of that, I am appreciative of the people who are good story tellers and love “the moth” radio show!

  • http://N/A ISABEL LYNDON

    Fascinating topic well presente!. I wanted to tell you about my best storytelling experiences which are stories told in American Sign Language by Deaf people. They are so vivid and sometimes so hilarious I can hardly breathe for laughing. ASL is a multilevel language as opposed to linear so as the signs are expressed so is emotion, time, position of characters in the story and many other factors. Grammar is in the standardized body language and facial expressions. This makes the stories so hard to translate with the delicious contents and experiences expressed so it is we, the privileged few who understand the beautiful language of the Deaf, who can truly benefit from this mode of storytelling.

  • Betsy Kessler

    My two teenagers spend a lot of time in “their own private space” — plugged in to their computers, ipods, etc. The Moth (as well as This American Life) has been an incredible way to bring us all together and has led to many driveway moments. More importantly, it’s allowed my kids to be exposed to this art of storytelling and has inspired them to write their own stories. I’m hoping as a parent I’m not giving them too much material!!

  • http://www.time-science.com Tim Brown

    My family visited Marrakech in Morroco a few years ago. We were delighted to see traditional storytelling alive and well as crowds of locals and Morrocan tourists gathered around oil and gas lamps at night in the famous Djemaa el Fna square to tell and hear stories. The scene was like something out of a book from 100 years ago more than the 21st century.

  • laura

    I tried to get through on the phone but could not. I grew up as the daughter of a full time professional storyteller. Stories and storytelling are incredibly important to me and an integral part of my daily life. I have been blessed to be a part of a storytelling community all of my life and to see the resurgence of the oral tradition in America. I have been going to the National Storytelling festival in Tennessee for 25 years. I will be getting married in a few weeks and instead of a band and dancing we will be having stories and songs performed in a ceilidh style by some of the best tellers in America who I am proud to say are very close friends of my family. Stories are an amazing part of life!

  • Alison Millsaps

    During my recent pregnancy, I found an entire community of women dying to tell the stories of their pregnancies, labors, and births. These tales were told regardless of where we were: standing in the produce isle, in the park, at a dinner party. And given to me by strangers and friends alike. While some pregnant women interpret these stories as an attempt to terrify the expectant mother, I always saw them as an attempt to connect about something so profound that it demands to be discussed. And often, as a matter of pride and an offer of encouragement. Now that I have my own 27 hour labor story, I pass it on whenever I can.

  • Pamela

    Stories awaken the lost art of imagining! Waldorf schools around the world stress the importance of stories helping young children to build their imagination and ability to form pictures in their minds which later helps with reading comprehension. Much of early childhood (K – 2nd grade) is taught orally – building those listening and memory muscles.

    Author J.K. Rowling, in her commencement speech to Harvard graduates, stressed the importance of having imagination – to imagine a better world!

  • Lauren

    One of my favorite parts of camping and backpacking is the storytelling that occurs. Taken away from computers, cell phone reception, and TVs the circle around the campfire is the form of entertainment for the night and stories are told. With backpacking it is often with people you have just met but you are connected through these “trail” stories and the common experience of being out there.

  • Pam

    This conversation reminds me of the popularity of GOOD comedy and improv as well as reading aloud and listening to books on tape.

  • Mack Slayden

    I tell a 15 minute story titled “Marvel Mystery Oil” about how my dad started cutting our hair and several threads that extend from that.
    When I tell, I work out the plot and when I get on stage I hang the details on the plot like ornaments on a tree.

  • Steve

    I don’t have empirical data for this, but it occurs to me that the societies that have rich inter-generational oral traditions tend to revere and respect their elders more than those without. For instance, here in America we have largely stopped asking our grandparents and community elders to tell us their stories here in America — and we tend to put grandma and grandpa in a home as they age.

  • Eddie

    Neat.

    But what about the many story telling gatherings that have been going on for years?

    Johnson City, Tennessee comes to mind.

  • Story Listener

    By the way, if you want to hear really great story tellers, wbur has a show called “My Word” every Sunday night. It’s a fantastic show and the story telling is brilliant, and improvised on the spot.

  • Becky R

    sometimes in the evening, when we have been working on a car or truck in our garage or doing some other job outside, a few guys like my Dad and father-in-law and some of our male neighbors will stand around drinking beers in our garage with the door open to the cooling air and do what old Vermonters call “shoot the breeze”. They stand around under the excuse of “helping” but really doing nothing productive what’s so ever and tell tall tales. I love listening to them. half the stories they have told already many times but they tell them again and every one laughs and listens until the bugs chase us inside to our dinners.

  • WSH

    I found The Moth about 6mos ago and I think its “On Point(smile)”. Talking and listening you can not beat.

  • Eddie

    A good story was taken out of context last week, Shirley Sherrod’s.

    The video tape editing did her a great disservice. I watched the entire unedited tape, and it was good.

  • http://none suzanne houston

    Heard your first hour today (7/28)while in and out of my car. Was waiting for someone to discuss how our Native Americans passed on their myths, legends and stories from one generation to the next and the fact that they are STILL doing this. What a wonderful way to hold onto ones history.
    The only reference (that I heard) to this type of story-telling came from a listener in Hinesburg VT. As a self-taught student of our NAtive Americans—- their stories and myths are exciting and powerful.
    Enjoyed what I was able to hear of “The Moth”—makes me want to read the author’s books.

  • http://www.andrealovett.blogspot.com andrea

    Great Program this am.
    I have listened to and told stories since before I could walk. My family told stories at the table. We(my family) still tell those stories even though many of the tellers of those tales have long since passed . Many of the stories are both funny and serious. They have woven our family together through the years so my daughters , who never met my parents have a good sense of who they were and what they sounded like.I inherited my mother’s Erma Bombeck style of housekeeping and my daughters now tell those stories at
    story slams in Boston at massmouth. Afterall I guess a story is not a story until it’s told once or twice or…..

  • Jean Sembach

    We have a family story, a flexible fairy tale, that has been in our family for generations. It is about how the child/children outsmarted and defeated a tiger. The skeleton of the story is always the same, but it changes with Political Correctness and how many children are hearing the story and what the children choose to add.

    When my grandmother told it to my father, he was a hunter and he killed a dangerous tiger to save a village. When he told it to me, I also killed the tiger. For generations, we killed that tiger.

    By the time I told it my son, he captured the tiger and sent it to a zoo. When he tells it to his sons, they capture it and send it to a wildlife preserve.

    I can’t wait to hear what my grandchildren do with that tiger.

  • http://helpmypeopletell.com Doug Lipman

    There is another kind of vital, personal storytelling we haven’t mentioned here: personal experience stories told by ordinary people, not for performance, but for social change.

    Groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving and Witness to Innocence help make transformational (and often painful) experiences available to society as a whole.

    Once the broader world shares such an experience through such storytelling, the story can become a seed for mobilizing action – action that can make such tragedies less likely to be needlessly repeated..

  • http://www.lanes.org Joanne Piazzi

    So glad that wbur featured this piece on the Moth, and to read comments from so many who have enjoyed storytelling in their families. Unless I’ve forgotten, storytelling was not part of my upbringing; however, I’m making up for it now! Whether your taste is for fiction that contains universal truths, or true stories of unique experiences, there are venues all over New England for listening and telling. The members of the League for the Advancement of NE Storytelling are active and welcoming – check out the calendar at http://www.lanes.org and come out to a storytelling event in your community. We need each other.

    LANES
    Celebrating Story. Creating Community

  • http://ncpr.org stillin

    Listening to the moth story hour is great fun! uses the imagination which is one reason I am into radio and voice so much, it IS entertaining, I prefer it to video, t.v. etc which can be so boring…I can remember when my kids were little, I was teaching art,breast feeding,commuting, cooking, doing baths the whole shebang and at night all my kids would get in our big bed for “stories”…I was so tired I would fall asleep sometimes during the story and they would hit me and say “MOM! the story!” I would pick right back up and finish..great memories of stories and the family bed. I would like to travel the earth when I retire from teaching and record and listen to stories..I am guessing doesn’t matter the culture, many stories bond us no matter…

  • http://www.storybug.net Karen Chace

    Educator and storyteller Kendall Haven recently published a book Story Proof – The Science Behind the Startling Power of Story. Some of his research is posted on my web site (with his permission) and it is indeed true that we are all hardwired for story. http://www.storybug.net/teachers.html

    I am a storyteller and produce an adult monthly storytelling event, the Story Cafe at ArtWorks (www.artworksforyou.org) in New Bedford, Massachusetts, featuring some of the best and brightest New England and beyond has to offer. I am also a member of Massmouth, an amazing organization that offers a monthly story slam in Boston. (massmouth.com)There is also terrific work being done by LANES (League for the Advancement of New England Storytelling. (www.lanes.org)

    Storytelling is even more important in this era of twitter, email, and texting. Every day we move further away from the person to person connection that is desperately needed. Thankfully, the art of Oral Tradition is indeed alive and well!

  • http://wfae.org Deb Park

    My dad is our family’s storyteller… and he is known to embellish or outright lie!… so now as young adults my children will interrupt me when I start a story .. and say..”Is this a true story… or a Granddaddy Roberts story?” (meaning how much am I “embellishing”… LOL)

  • Joshua Hendrickson

    Now that I’m listening to the show, I think I have an answer to my question: the Moth definitely seems to come down on the side of non-fiction, focussing (entirely?) on personal memoir. I’m glad it’s such a success and I wish it well. Still, I cannot help being just a little disappointed. For me, fiction–a lie that tells the truth–is simply purer than non-fiction. I have an essay on the subject called THE TRUTH INSIDE THE LIE at my blog, http://www.bookofzo.blogspot.com.

    In any case, regardless of content, good honest story-telling is to be treasured, especially in this era of tweets and texts (both of which I abhor). Cutting and reducing human communication, in tweets and texts, rather than expanding it (as in novels) is not going to improve our general intellectual lot.

  • Diana Palecek

    Great show. It reminded me of my favorite story teller, my grandfather (1910-1994). Oh how I wish I could remember more of his stories of growing up poor in the South.

  • http://www.liminmo.com Li Min Mo

    I grew up with storytelling, not as an entertainment, but as a life-jacket, a fire extinguisher, a bowl of soup for the famished. Stories were told when were in trouble; tales supposed to sooth us, nurture us. I grew up craving for those kind of stories, so I went to study with Native American elders, Buddhist teachers, Shamanic healers and others who use stories to awaken us. I’m so glad to hear Moth. Maybe one of these days I’ll get invited to tell stories on that show.

  • Jack Mulrooney

    One of the best hours of radio I have listened to in a long time, and I listen to a lot of radio (Public radio especially). True human interaction is becoming a lost art. I live in the Washingtom suburbs and am overwhelmed by the youth and bumper sticker culture who think Facebook and the like are the greatist thing since sliced bread. Nothing wrong with getting information out, but having this substitute for social interaction is a sham of the highest order.

    The Story teller hour was fascinating and this type of experience needs to be communicated more often. Thanks to On Point for this braodcast. I feel sorry for this generation whose social lives have been usurped by instant and shallow gratification, but toungue in cheek congratulations to the marketeers who have engineered it all for their profit.

  • AC

    Another truly wonderful show!!!!

    And, such great Comments from listeners here on the blog! Thanks to all for the comments and for the links that many sent along!

    Unfortunately, it falls to me to tell The Sad Tale About Storytelling. My grandmother was a gifted storyteller, and she had two bents: one was her fictional fairy tales (literally about fairies), and the other was her tales about her family. I loved them both and could not wait to be a storyteller to my children and grandchildren when I grew up. I must say, because I knew from my grandmother’s example, that I would have to learn to listen (intuitively) to how I told stories if I wanted to tell stories for other people’s ears, I think I learned to create and tell good stories.

    Sadly, the only people who could not tolerate listening to my tales are my now-grown child and her father. I did not know, when getting to know them both, how long it would take me to realize how completely I would be marooned away from the very audience I most desired. The special voices I would create for my characters, the varied tones and rhythms, the occasional use of sounds that weren’t words, all annoyed them. Thinking I might not be as good at this as I thought I was, I eliminated those stylistic extras and stuck to the stories, only to see that the members of my little family literally could not tolerate listening.

    My newest story is this: no matter how well I described various aspects of the social and communication environment of our household to therapists, general doctors, teachers, guidance counselors, and eventually to divorce attorneys, only one, an M.D., when my “offspring” was already twenty years old, listened to my stories of life within our household well enough to make the diagnosis, Asperger’s. I had never heard of it before; he said counselors and doctors and teachers should have; and he told me that my descriptions of my life lived as the bewildered “neuro-typical” in my household was stunningly accurate for how much, if not all, Asperger’s is expressed . We need to tell our stories, and we need to deeply listen to stories — people in all walks of life need to listen to stories.

    Thank you.

  • AC

    Sorry: grammatical correction:

    “my descriptions of my life lived as the bewildered “neuro-typical” in my household WERE (not “was”) stunningly accurate….”

  • Coaster

    The art of storytelling thrives among commercial fishermen. I reckon it’s a survival skill, enduring close quarters of days/weeks/months aboard a wave-tossed boat or later finding refuge in an onshore tavern. I’ve witnessed storytelling with gestures and expressiveness that bring alive the unique challenges, comedic moments, and sheer awe of being in Alaskan waters the first time–or the fortieth. Tellers of such tales don’t earn certificates or analyze story elements. They’ve learned storycraft by listening, watching, doing: by choosing to participate. They are riveting when they find whatever originates within and cultivate that story-seed to share entertainingly with others.

  • Bush’s fault

    I listened to some of the “stories” on The Moth and found the ones I listened to tiresome and not particularly entertaining…I wish some of these people would stop trying to be stand up comics…good stories are seldom funny.

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