An evening for not just for storytelling but also story listening.
by Colleen Burns
This past Monday, November 12, Fordham’s Social Innovation Collaboratory hosted its third and largest installment of Our Story. Organizer Julia Gagliardi introduced the event as an evening of storytelling and story listening.
Our Story created a space for five storytellers to share not the story of their life but a story in their life that coincided with the theme: Caught Off Guard. Audience members were encouraged to deeply listen to the storytellers but also listen to their inner selves, as storytelling fosters connection even through the most differing of people.
Storytellers included Danielle Terracciano, Abby Govindan, Sophia Jagoie-Seidl, Erica Knox, and Shelby Daniel, who all worked diligently to share their stories in the most authentic and truthful ways possible. In fact, these five storytellers were chosen from a pool of 18 candidates, the largest amount of candidates Our Story has ever received.
Selecting the storytellers is just one step in planning an event like Our Story. Organizer Emma Chioke explains that the entire process takes three to four months of work, saying, “Planning this event is a lot harder than it looks. There’s a lot more logistics to getting the event together and a lot more emotional labor that goes on behind the scenes, such as having people mentor the story mentors who will then mentor the storytellers.”
One storyteller, Erica Knox, shared with the paper what it was like writing out her story in a convincing way for an audience to hear. She said, “It’s hard to feel like just saying what happened was enough to be validating. You feel like you have to prove that it was bad or prove that it was traumatizing.” Knox also added what it was like to physically give her speech and to tell her story, saying, “I had to give myself permission to be me, which meant stopping around and being over the top because actually being over the top is me.”
With months of planning, workshops, and storyteller mentorship, the Our Story team seemed to think of everything. They even had a representative, Jeff King, from Fordham’s Counseling and Psychological Services there to provide support if necessary, as the stories could contain sensitive material. Before the storytelling began, Chioke reminded the audience of some key story listening practices including: suspend judgment, lean into discomfort, and leave space for silence.
One of the most challenging practices was to observe deep confidentiality. Chioke explained that while this event is obviously public, the intent is to create a safe space that is truly about storytelling and story listening. If someone retells or re-authenticates a story, they are inherently changing it. These stories are personal, sensitive, and do not allow room for another perspective. And the storytellers deserve that respect.
With these practices in mind, the audience was truly able to listen deeply and connect with the five storytellers who openly told moving stories that in an ordinary setting may be deemed too taboo or unsuitable by society. However, it is these stories that evoke connection and understanding among people.
And the actual storytelling itself was not just a journey for the audience. Storyteller Sophia Jagoie-Seidl disclosed, “As much as it was a story that I was telling for other people, I felt like it was a learning experience for myself.”
Storyteller Abby Govindan also shared these sentiments, explaining that while she is an experienced public speaker, she was nervous that day to speak. “The story that I told today—it’s the first time I’ve told it in front of a whole bunch of people,” said Govindan. “But I also felt like I had closure because I finally took control of my own life back in front of a large group of people. I feel like this was a significant part of the healing process for me, and I’m glad so many people resonated with what I had to say.”
After the storytelling concluded, audience members were given post-it notes and pens and were encouraged to write down one word that they were feeling. Then, everyone shared with their neighbors and hung up the post-it notes to create a post-it note wall of feelings. This reflection and sharing activity drove the idea that the journey does not at end at the close of the story. Storytelling can have a social impact and can be used as a tool for changemaking.