Five Minutes of Bravery: The Moth GrandSLAM returned to The Ark after a three-year break


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Leaping out of indecision, or into a new love, or over a chicken coop—these were some of the jumps storytellers shared at The Moth’s GrandSLAM championship on May 12 at The Ark in Ann Arbor.

In the first Ann Arbor GrandSLAM since 2019, nine storytellers who were previous winners of the regular StorySLAM events each received five minutes to tell a true personal story, without any notes to guide them. Three groups of judges—naming themselves Quantum, The 229s, and The Bullfrogs—secretly rated each story, not even revealing the scores after a winner was determined. Amir Badghdadchi, a past GrandSLAM winner, was the host and kept the energy high. 

With this year's theme being "leaps," the GrandSLAM invited the audience to listen to "stories of springing into action, clearing hurdles, impulsive decisions or concentrating everything they have on a single bound. In short: busting a move."

Rachel Cain started the evening with a story about a cancer diagnosis. The tale featured not only an emotional leap but also a physical one: She got locked into her chicken coop and had to climb and jump out, landing her with the realization that if she can do that, she can trust that things will be OK about the cancer scare. "These chickens will protect us” was one of the many memorable lines. 

Another captivating story was by Karl Hoesch, who described a vacation activity gone wrong. One of the mantras he uses to combat indecisiveness is “I always go swimming.” In this case, it actually was about whether to go swimming and after jumping into the lake, he discovered it was leech-filled water. But as Hoesch debated whether he should leave the bloodsuckers or—for some reason—hang around, a family with the remains of a late son came down and began to spread the ashes. As they did so, the ashes got caught in the wind and covered Hoesch's wet body. Now, Hoesch says, he has a new mantra: "Leave."

The eventual winner was Dave Moran who talked of a career leap in order to help other people. He left a tenured professor position to come to Michigan and help direct the Michigan Innocence Clinic at U-M Law School where he worked on the case of Lamarr Monson, who was wrongfully convicted of murder. Moran's tale was equally poetic and emotional, confronting the fear of changing careers while also being excited for the future.

Before Moran's name was called, all nine storytellers found their way back to the stage and hugged one another, sharing their compassion with each other just as they offered themselves and their vulnerability and stories to the audience.

The Moth events remind us of how important it is to share bits of our lives with strangers through art and story, highlighting our shared humanity, even if just for five minutes.

Katy Trame is a student, poet, public library associate for Pulp, and music writer for The Michigan Daily.