Movies. Television. Books. Social media. Conversations with friends. Idle bar talk. These things might not seem to share a common thread, but at their very core they all have the same essence: they are all forms of storytelling. From the stories we tell others about ourselves to the stories we tell each other about the world around us, as social creatures we are dependent upon our ability to share stories. Some are meant to educate. Some merely to entertain. Some offer moral guidance while others still preserve a culture's history. Some show off just how nerdy a person can be about a particular topic.
In metro Detroit, there are plenty of people telling stories, and plenty of places to hear them, from successful entrepreneurs sharing their economic insights to fiction writers sharing the worlds within their minds. Turn off your Twitter feed, shut down Facebook, and silence your cellphone. Then check out these local storytelling sessions and reconnect with your fellow human beings through an activity that's as old as humanity itself..
Like a moth to a flame, NPR nerds all across the country are drawn in droves to the Moth storyslam. The Moth is a national nonprofit organization started in 1997 that is dedicated to the art of storytelling. Think of it kind of like an audition for "This American Life" with amateur performers getting onstage to tell their stories to a packed house (seriously, get there early because it ALWAYS sells out and the line starts hours before doors open). Monthly events are held in locations all over the world with different themes exploring a wide range of topics on the human experience. Storytellers arrive, sign up to speak for the evening, and are selected at random. They then have five minutes to tell their true stories (there is no truth police to make sure you're not telling tall tales but do try to keep it real) on the evening's theme. Storytellers are judged on their ability to structure a cohesive story within the five-minute time-frame allowed. No notes or cheat-sheats are permitted, and organizers are very specific that this is for storytelling, not stand-up. Aspiring comedians, you still have Mark Ridley's. Events are held in Detroit at Cliff Bell's and in Ann Arbor at the Cavern Club.
What is TED? Some call it a cult. Others go to the TED talks. "TED" stands for technology, entertainment, and design. It bills itself as a lecture series for "ideas worth spreading" – which can mean pretty much anything. And everything. And usually does. It is a nonprofit organization launched in 1984 that runs a global series of conferences every year with independent local chapters in cities all over the world, including (surprise, surprise) Detroit, the home of the world's favorite new renewal narrative. TEDx Detroit is an independently-organized TED event that annually gathers the leading "creators, catalysts, entrepreneurs, artists, technologists, designers, scientists, thinkers, and doers" in Detroit for a day-long conference to share "ideas worth spreading." Speakers run a wide range of innovators (and that's a BROAD term) speaking on a wide range of subjects and themes. Based on the speakers at this year's TED event just held earlier this month, those ideas can come from anyone from pawnshop owners and reality television stars to "community organizers" to dudes who organize sports events, or are at least trying to. And also Charlie LeDuff, who very clearly was not familiar with what TED is
prior to his talk. TEDx Detroit is held every October.
Entre-SLAM is a storytelling competition for entrepreneurs, kind of like a Moth/TED hybrid specifically designed for business people. It can still be a bit business-jargony but is decidedly not a networking event, as the organizers started it to be the antithesis of your typical networking events, when people are too busy trying to shove their business cards in each other's hands than actually hearing each other's stories. Events are held monthly in different locations in Detroit and Ann Arbor. Like Moth, each month has a different theme, but expect a lot of business horror stories of failed efforts, facing opposition, and overcoming insecurity that all end happily because if they didn't, these speakers wouldn't be speaking. A popular trend in business journalism at the moment is the op-ed touting the benefits of failure, and Entre-SLAM (whether intentionally or not) nestles itself comfortably within that territory. So don't despair, fledgling entrepreneurs: everybody fails, even successful people. Here them tell their stories here
. Occasionally there's even prizes!
Now, it would be pretty fair to say that all of these speaker series and story nights appeal to a very specific kind of audience, and it's not the dude-bros who high-five each other in neon-soaked sports bars. Nerd Nite is the nerdiest of all. (It's RIGHT THERE in the name). Nerd Nite is a global cultural movement held monthly in 50 cities all over the world, including Detroit and Ann Arbor, when several people give interactive 20-minute presentations on topics including everything from the science of The Simpsons to the genealogy of Godzilla. Topics can be on anything the speakers want, but speakers do need to send in their pitches in advance and are accepted and announced accordingly. There usually isn't a set theme, but since it IS the Halloween season and Halloween DOES lend itself particularly well to storytelling (the spooky kind!), the Detroit event that will be held November 6 at the Tangent Gallery has a decidedly ghoulish theme. Presentations are "Decoding the Dead: A Zombie’s Guide to Postmodern Analysis" by Maggie McGuire and "The Neuroscience of Fear: Where, Why, and Why Do We Love It?" By Tyrell J. Simkins. All you brainy Walking Dead fans who like movie monsters that eat brains, you won't wan to miss this one.
Creative Mornings is a worldwide breakfast lecture series for creative people featuring key speakers in creative industries sharing their own stories over coffee and breakfast. Be sure to reserve your spot for this monthly series in advance as it typically fills up to capacity. Creative Mornings Detroit is held monthly in different locations throughout Detroit. Oh and hey, our very own Metromode writer Nicole Rupersburg was recently featured as a speaker. http://creativemornings.com/talks/amy-kaherl-nicole-rupersburg/1
50 Founders is an ongoing monthly series inspired by the Chris Dixon's Founders Stories series in TechCrunch. Held at Bamboo Detroit, a co-working space downtown, Bamboo Detroit is a monthly event that hosts successful digital entrepreneurs from all over the country to share their stories with Detroiters, like Klip founder Brian Wong who was the speaker at the launch event
held this summer.
Ignite Ann Arbor events are held every month at different locations in Ann Arbor. Speakers are given five minutes and 20 slides (advancing every 15 seconds) to tell their stories on the topics of their choosing. In order to be invited to speak at Ignite, interested parties must fill out an application online in advance.
Red Thread follows the same format as the Moth, giving each of the voluntary speakers five minutes to tell a true personal story on a pre-selected theme. Probably the most unique aspect of this story-telling event is the location, proving that you don't have to reside within walking distance of Woodward Avenue to have a tale worth telling. Events are held monthly at Uptown Grille in Commerce Township.
Check out the Scarab Club's monthly Woodward Line poetry series every third Wednesday of the month from September through June. The series features poets and other creatives and thinkers from Detroit and around the country.
826michigan is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting students ages 6 to 18 with their creative and expository writing skills. They have programming in both Ann Arbor and Detroit, including workshops on writing and storytelling from professional writers.
First Container is, as the name suggests, the first shipping container in the Detroit Collision Works project, an effort to construct a boutique hotel in Detroit's Eastern Market out of shipping containers. The First Container Story Box is a place where speakers are invited to present and where people from the community can come and record their own stories to foster creativity, collaboration, and connections. It is a stage for special programming and public events that revolve around interactive storytelling. The container is on-site at many local events in the city and is otherwise located on Russell St. at Wilkins in Eastern Market.
The Detroit Association of Black Storytellers holds monthly events at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. Monthly events come with specific themes, all with the intention of preserving and promoting the traditions of African and African American storytelling.
Independent bookstores throughout the area host a number of author-led workshops and writer's book readings and meet-and-greets. Check out the Book Beat
in Oak Park, Off the Beaten Path Books
in Farmington, and Source Booksellers
in Midtown for upcoming events.
The Hamtramck-based Detroit Bus Company offers a number of informative and engaging historical bus tours led by experts in their fields. Don't miss the Frontier Anarchy tour led by local historian and author Amy Elliott Bragg, who tells you the stories behind the founding fathers and Detroit's early lumber and tobacco tycoons (with lots of juicy tidbits).
Nicole Rupersburg is a freelance writer, regular contributor to Metromode and popular Metro Detroit food blogger. Read her blog at Eat It Detroit.