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Fragments and Shrapnel – The Short Story

I once read an interview with illustrator and author Art Speigelman who said he and his wife read each other stories as an act of foreplay. That’s a pretty bold statement and lot to live up to for the person who is doing the reading. But it got me thinking about the fine art of story telling. Sure, anyone can read from a page but only true masters can grab your attention,hold on tight, and keep you engaged.

I have my own story-telling infatuations. I subscribe to at least three weekly “story telling” podcasts and I’m a sucker for a well-written short story. I have had “driveway moments” while listening to stories on All Things Considered and I’ve often said I’d like Neil Gaiman to read me bedtime stories.

One of my favorite story telling podcasts is Selected Shorts. For those of you who just fell off the turnip truck, Selected Shorts is story time for grownups. The works of emerging and well-known writers are read live by stars of the stage and screen at Symphony Space in NYC. Each “episode” has a theme like “mysterious circumstances” or “audience favorites” and selected works of various authors are read and celebrated. They have a Willa Cather gathering each year in a farmhouse and read her lesser-known stories. I never liked Willa Cather before I heard her stories read by an expert.

The stories of some of my favorite authors like Sherman Alexie and T.C. Boyle are regularly featured and there’s nothing like listening to Stockard Channing read. Selected Shorts is addicting you will have your own “driveway moments’ while you wait for a story to end. I once purposely got lost on a local county road while listening to Stephen Colbert read a T.C. Boyle story about a man who fakes his daughters death to get out of going to work. Selected Shorts is fun, erudite, and makes you feel cultured. Download it on iTunes or listen to it on your local public radio station.

Another one of my favorite story telling events, which also originates from NYC, is The Moth. The Moth is a non-profit organization that invites people of various backgrounds to tell true stories on stage without notes. The Moth has spread from NYC to Chicago, Detroit and Los Angeles and each event has a theme. Story tellers are scored by a panel of judges and given the opportunity to face off with other winners at the annual Grand SLAM. The Moth also has an annual fund raiser called The Moth Ball. Gotta love it.

I first learned about The Moth when one of the stories aired on This American Life. I was intrigued the idea and downloaded Neil Gaiman talking about being left behind at a train station in England. The Moth’s live story telling concept has spread across the United States many other cities host their own version. Where I live in Portland we have Back Fence PDX. I’ve gone to Back Fence a few times and listened to local writers, dj’s, bookstore workers, and interesting people tell wonderful stories. I heard a woman tell a story about traveling in Eastern Europe and dodging border guards, and a man talk about gang fights in Minneapolis. A local DJ, told us about her former life as a doctor’s wife. These story telling events are so worth the price of admission and, in a strange way, makes you feel closer to your community.

This week on A Closer Look Radio, Pam Atherton interviews 3-time Moth Grand Slam Champion, Bill Ratner. Amongst other things, Bill is a voice over artist, was a character in the animated G.I. Joe series, and was on Robot Chicken!

Check out Bill Ratner on the Health and Lifestyle Edition of A Closer Look Radio. Maybe his stories will inspire you to subscribe to The Moth and Selected Shorts podcasts or start up a local chapter in your town!


About Anna Alexander

I get ideas. I write things. I sometimes follow through with those ideas. I also run long distances and live in the Pacific Northwest with my husband cat who lets us pay the mortgage on his house.

4 responses »

  1. Hello BLT:
    Thanks for the shout out about Pam’s show and your mentioning The Moth storytelling. Compared to New Yorkers I’m a relative newbie in L.A. The Moth has been an amazing life-changing force for many writers, actors, storytellers, and regular citizens who suddenly have found themselves on a nightclub stage at a microphone, wowing the crowd with their heretofore untold true-life tale. At age 44 I went back to college, got a degree in Creative Writing, published a few short stories, and continued on with my life. Then The Moth came to Los Angeles 11 years after it laid its true-life eggs in coffee houses & nightclubs in New York City. Now L.A. has three nightclub venues holding story slams once a month, so three times a month a Moth addict like myself (rehab? I say no, no, no…) sits down to prepare a five minute personal essay on-theme (Spring, Earth, On The Road, etc.) And these stories pile up. By my estimate, another year of this and I’ll have a full-blown memoir.
    And theater folks are mystified by the sold-out standing-room-only crowds The Moth attracts. The simple, magnetic power of a real human being standing before us telling a true-life story seems to mesmerize, and for the moment it trumps other forms of entertainment. Is it the I-dare-you part of it that causes us to toss our names in the hat and wait to see if we’re called? Sure, that’s part of it, but as the months grow into years I keep coming back just to hear the stories.

  2. P.S. Just to set the record straight, I’m not a 3-time Grand Slam Moth champion as mentioned above (that would have gotten me my own tv series by now.) I’ve won four Story Slams at The Moth – the first level that when won, brings you to a Grand Slam to compete against 9 other Story Slam winners. I’m headed for my 3rd Grand Slam Story Competition June 1st in L.A., but I’ve yet to win a Grand Slam. The Grand Slam winners in L.A. & N.Y. go on to the Moth Grand Ball where they tell a 1-minute version of their winning Grand Slam stories and are feted by the likes of Garrison Keillor, and other luminaries.

    • Thanks for the e-mail, Bill. Your interview on Pam’s show ROCKED!!! I learned so much. I’ll fix my blog post .. or maybe I’ll just let people read your comments. 🙂 I love The Moth.

  3. Hello there, glad you love my Wall-E project! It’s so amazing how many people out there that happen upon my photos and appreciate them!! Glad to help out in anyway 🙂 Thanks for the compliments and blog about it!!!


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