Recreate the summer experience of back-porch storytelling through the accessible streaming media of podcasts. This is the third of a three-part blog installment, Summer Suite: Read, Write, and Listen.
One of the fondest memories of my childhood was visiting my grandparent’s farmhouse in northern Kentucky during the summer. After dinner, my parents, my grandparents, and maybe a workhand or two would retire to the chairs under the mimosa tree to smoke and drink coffee and talk. They would laugh and tell stories for hours. The stories would be grave or funny, about themselves or other people in their community. My cousin and I ran around the yard, catching lightning bugs and hatching conspiracies, but when we were finally sent to bed in our bedroom in the attic, there was no better sound to fall asleep to than the sound of those voices spinning yarns in the dark yard below.
In my classroom, I can immediately identify students who come from a family or a neighborhood where stories are told. They seemingly have a built-in sense of what a story is. They understand the importance of suspense, build-up, and revealation. Whether they’ve heard stories at the barbershop, in church, on the front porch, over horseshoes, at the kitchen table, they have internalized the postures and nuances of the raconteurs they’ve heard.
This is why I love the virtual world and the accessibility of streaming media. If you weren’t born into a neighborhood of storytellers, you have every master storyteller at your fingertips via podcast. If kids are confused about how to listen to podcasts, master storyteller Ira Glass of This American Life has a great video tutorial on how to get hooked up. Over summer break, I recommend that my students listen consistently to one of the following:
- The Moth: In the late 90s, native Georgian George Dawes Green wanted to recreate, in his then-home in New York, the feeling of summertime storytelling from his childhood. He and his friends shared stories on one particular front porch where a hole in the screen let in moths that were attracted to the porch light. Green decided to call his group of storytellers, The Moths, and he held the first storytelling session in his living room. The fame of this event soon spread until now there are thousands of stories shared through The Moth Mainstage and now The Moth podcasts which features stories every week.
- StoryCorps A non-profit organization, StoryCorps is one of my favorite podcasts because the format is so simple: two people go into a recording booth, and one of them interviews the other. A father interviews his son about being a homeless vet; a daughter interviews her mother about crossing the border into America. At the end of 40 minutes, a CD is recorded with the interview which becomes part of the 50,000 interview archive preserved in the Library of Congress, one of the largest oral history projects in America. You can easily subscribe to the StoryCorps podcast and access thousands of these personal, often heartbreaking as well as hysterical interviews.
- Porchlight: A Storytelling Series. This is another of my favorite podcasts because of the low-key format. The hosts and founders, Arline Klatte and Beth Lisick, pick a theme each week (themes range from lies to kitchen stories to mutations to transformation) and invite six people to tell ten-minute stories without a script. The storytelling series is hosted at a bar in San Francisco and the storytellers come from all walks of life. You can subscribe to the Porchlight podcast from iTunes and enjoy these wonderful, original stories.
- This American Life: I would be remiss if I didn’t include the granddaddy of all podcasts in my line-up. The format for This American Life is more radio documentary than back porch storytelling session. Each show connects stories to a singular theme. The stories are quirky and unique as shaped by Ira Glass, the host, and his staff.
- The Serial, a spin-off from This American Life, follows a single, true crime case of a murdered high school student in Baltimore. The beauty of this show is that the producers have no idea how it will end. Each season is unfolding as they document it. Season One is available on iTunes, so you will be up to par when Season Two rolls out.