A quote in one of this week’s posts has stuck in my mind. It’s by a former journalist who started a live-storytelling group in Beirut. What she says applies to that form of oral storytelling, but also to literary journalism in general: “The most compelling things I know and learned didn’t make it into a news story. News stories just don’t portray the charm and the pain and the humanity enough.” That’s it — the charm and the pain and the humanity.
In Arab world, an ancient tradition of storytelling gets a 21st century spin. A new wave of oral storytelling is sweeping the Middle East, and the writers are using the forums to talk about touchy subjects like politics, gender issues and the wars in the region. As Abby Sewell writes: “Some of the new events follow a similar format to The Moth, the popular American event and podcast that features live storytellers. But they also build on the legacy of the hakawati, or storyteller, who was long a treasured source of entertainment — and sometimes the only one available. In the old days, the traditional hakawati would recount legends, fables or stories from the Quran; the new storytelling tradition is often more personal.”
The soundtrack: “Tell Me a Story,” by Grouplove. You have to love a band whose first album was called “Never Trust a Happy Song.”
One Great Sentence
“It’s a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I’d say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder.”
George Saunders, commencement speech at Syracuse University, 2013
Read why we think it’s great.
Talal Ansari and “Welcome to America: Now Spy on Your Friends.” In another installment of our wonderful series “Tomorrow’s journalists exploring the masters of today,” Medill student Alexa Mencia talks to BuzzFeed News reporter Talal Ansari about his investigation into the practice of FBI agents pressuring Muslim immigrants who are applying for citizenship, green cards, visas or asylum into becoming informants. He says, “I think it’s opened people’s eyes to a little bit of the Muslim American experience.”
The soundtrack: “Spying Glass,” by Massive Attack. “You live in the city/You stay by yourself/You evade all wickedness/Still some people they brand you.”
What I’m reading online: After listening to Miriam Makeba (see below), I wanted to read the Rolling Stone article by South African writer Rian Malan about the colonizing of a South African man’s song for “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” He traces its path to Western stardom from the original writer, Solomon Linda, to Pete Seeger, to the folk circles of America, to a very white band called The Tokens, and the rest is music litigation history. It’s a wonderful feat of accountability journalism. And I had no idea about this bit of trivia: “Miriam Makeba sang her version at JFK’s last birthday party, moments before Marilyn Monroe famously lisped, ‘Happy Birthday, Mister President.'”
And this piece by climber Tommy Caldwell for Outside magazine, “Why Alex Honnold’s Free Solo of El Cap Scared Me,” was a fascinating look into the psychology of extreme climbing. The deck says it all: “We all know Alex is the greatest climber of our generation. I trust him with my life. I trust him a little less with his own.”
This Paris Review interview with the poet Donald Hall is great. He talks about playing softball with fellow New Hampshire poet Robert Frost, who was a fierce competitor. “He played a vigorous game of softball but he was also something of a spoiled brat. His team had to win and it was well known that the pitcher should serve Frost a fat pitch. I remember him hitting a double. He fought hard for his team to win and he was willing to change the rules. He had to win at everything. Including poetry.”
What’s on my bedside table: “The Lost Kitchen,” by Erin French. This may be a cookbook, for a crazy-popular restaurant up the road from me, in Freedom, Maine, but French also writes some lovely mini-essays about growing up in Maine and why she loves the seasons here. On spring: “The seemingly everlasting winter has held its grasp far too long. Cabin fever lingers, and we find ourselves bursting with a craving for green grass, budding blossoms, chirping birds, lingering daylight, and the opportunity to shed the layers of clothes we’ve been trudging around in for months now.” Amen.
What’s on my turntable: “Miriam Makeba,” by Miriam Makeba. I was so excited to find this in my local Goodwill this week. It’s the first album from the South African star. I love this line from her on the liner notes, about her refusal to sing Afrikaner songs — during the height of apartheid, when Afrikaners had absolute power and Xhosas like her were the victims of the racist regime: “When Afrikaners sing in my language, then I will sing in theirs.” The album has the song “Mbube,” which will sound very familiar to fans of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” (See above.)
If you want to chat about storytelling (or music), I’m Storyboard editor Kari Howard, and you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can find me at @karihow on Twitter.