Sunday, January 29, 2012


PRESIDENT LINCOLN, STORYTELLER: A post by historian Louis P. Masur on the New York Times "Disunion" blog, about President Lincoln's renown as a storyteller. (Image above is from that NYT blog post.) Masur writes: "Lincoln loved to tell stories. Anyone who met with him commented on his endless supply of anecdotes and jokes. Count Adam Gurowski, a Polish exile who worked in the State Department, observed, 'In the midst of the most stirring and exciting -- nay, death-giving -- news, Mr. Lincoln has always a story to tell.' Ralph Waldo Emerson found it delightful: 'When he has made his remark, he looks up at you with great satisfaction, & Shows all his white teeth, & laughs.' Walt Whitman saw something else in Lincoln's storytelling; he thought it was a 'weapon which he employ'd with great skill.' " An interesting post, well worth a read.  

STORIES AND COMMUNITY PLANNING: CommunityMatters is a commons for people and organizations to build "strong, vibrant communities from the ground up." Here's the podcast of an hour-long conference call they sponsored last week on "Storytelling for Community Planning," featuring facilitator Barbara Ganley, Betsy Rosenbluth of the Orton Family Foundation, and participants from around the country. They discuss how stories can be used to identify values, strengthen relationships, and guide the community planning process. Also available on the site are notes from the call.

MIDDLE AGE AS A "STORY WE TELL ABOUT OURSELVES": A Slate podcast interview with New York Times reporter Patricia Cohen, whose new book, In Our Prime: The Invention of Middle Age, traces the social history of the idea of middle age -- which was not always seen as a discrete phase of life. At one point in the podcast, Cohen says that middle age is perhaps best defined as "a story that we tell about ourselves. We all try and make sense of our lives in some way. We construct a narrative. It can be a narrative of redemption, of triumph, of loss, of grief. And we put these into a kind of narrative as we go along. At one point the story of middle age was a story of power and influence, and over time it changed to become a story of decline, and now I think it's in flux again."

Sunday, January 22, 2012


2 6 PRINCIPLES from Narativ Circle on Vimeo.

NARATIV E-COURSE: Narativ is an organization that trains corporations, nonprofits, and individuals on how to listen to and tell stories. In exchange for your name and email address, you get access to the workbook and six short videos they have in their free e-course. In the first video in the series, above, the organization's co-founder Murray Nossel states the organization's six storytelling principles, starting with the notion that "Our brains are hard-wired for story." (I also wrote briefly about Narativ here. Also read this article in Forbes Magazine about Murray and the Narativ method. 

OBAMA MINES DATA FROM AMERICANS' STORIES: Here's a fascinating Slate article by Sasha Issenberg about President Obama's "Dreamcatcher" project. That project uses scientific methods to analyze data from the stories that constituents submit online, so that the Administration can better understand -- and respond to -- the hopes and fears of the electorate. This effort calls to mind three other projects I've written about, namely a GlobalGiving project to assess a community's needs and interests by analyzing its "micro-narratives"; the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency's study of "Narrative Networks," to understand propaganda and prevent terrorism; and an MIT professor's attempts to teach a computer to understand stories. Together, these projects indicate a scientific approach to stories, their content, meaning, and appeal.

Monday, January 9, 2012


Here's the beginning of a post I wrote for the Orton Family Foundation's blog, "Cornerstones." Click here to visit their blog and read the whole post, which is about the stories that social movements tell to and about themselves.

Like other gay bars of the 1950s and 1960s, the Stonewall Inn in New York City was subject to regular police raids. Mostly, patrons were so afraid of being exposed and losing their jobs, livelihoods, families and reputations that they suffered silently through the raids. But that would only go so far.

Denizens of the Stonewall included lesbians, gay men and transgendered people, some of whom had little to lose, and for whatever reason they had reached a breaking point. When the police raided the bar on June 28, 1969, patrons fought back. The riots that took place marked a confrontational new tack in the fight for LGBT rights. And in the years since, annual marches—now known as Pride Parades—have taken place the last weekend of June in cities around the world.
That, in a nutshell, is the origin story of the modern LGBT rights movement. Told, retold, contested and continually adapted, it is just one of the stories about where the movement comes from and what it stands for.... Continue reading here.

Sunday, January 1, 2012


SMART PROGRAMS READ SHAKESPEARE: Happy new year! In recognition of the approaching robot war -- didn't the Mayans predict this for 2012, or am I mistaken? -- a "Studio 360" radio segment called "Smart Computers Read Shakespeare." MIT computer scientist Patrick Winston (pictured) says that, in order for computer intelligence to become creative, we have to teach it to understand stories. This segment is part of an interesting episode called "Are Computers Creative?" Also pertinent to narrative is the segment on 420-character stories

LITERATURE ON TWITTER: More on the topic of ultra-short literature. An RW Deutsch Foundation blog post from this past summer on "Serious Twitterature: The Online Future of the Novel." The post explores how a novel, albeit a relatively short one, can be written or released over the course of time in 140-character tweets. The author writes, "As a forum for new types of literary work, Twitter's greatest asset is its ability to capture a story in real-time" -- but that's also weakness, because works produced on Twitter are particular to their time.