Every month crowds gather at Circus for The Moth StorySLAM, Ann Arbor's live, local version of the hugely popular NPR radio show The Moth Radio Hour. Just like the show, Ann Arbor's StorySLAM features true, personal stories told by people of all ages, backgrounds, and storytelling skill-levels--as long as they've got the guts to get up on stage and tell.
At this past Tuesday’s Ann Arbor StorySLAM, storytellers had to bring twice the guts--because “Guts” was also this month's theme. Satori Shakoor, creator, producer, and host of The Secret Society of Twisted Storytellers, was StorySLAM's enthusiastic host, welcoming storytellers to the stage and reading brief “times I chickened out” anecdotes submitted by the audience in between stories. Storytellers displayed a wide range of abilities as they shared a diversity of "gutsy" stories. Opener Karin Lindstrom told a dramatic tale of having to kill a beloved horse, while eventual winner Lauren Trimble shared a tearful story of having to identify the body of her dead brother. Other storytellers interpreted “guts” more literally; KT Doud told a story of offending international hosts by refusing to eat intestine soup… and then accidentally furthering the offense with too many tequila shots.
Circus makes a great venue for the event, with its raised stage and combination of tables, chairs, and standing room. It’s fun to see the different abilities of the storytellers and their individual interpretations of each monthly theme. For those who don't faint dead away at the thought of public speaking, it's actually pretty easy to join in on one of these StorySLAMs. Those who wish to tell a story submit their name and 10 random storytellers are chosen to share their 5-minute story with the crowd and with a panel of judges. The StorySLAM winner continues on to compete in a larger GrandSLAM, a storytelling event with winners from StorySLAMs around the country.
Elizabeth Pearce is a Library Technician at the Ann Arbor District Library.
Ann Arbor's StorySLAM is sponsored by Michigan Radio and is held on the third Tuesday of every month at Circus. The event will be back on November 17, with the theme “Gifted,” and on December 15, with the theme “Joy.” Tickets are $9 each for nonparticipants, and you can buy them online in advance or at the door. For more information and Detroit dates, visit the Moth events website.
When Piper Kerman, New York Times bestselling author of Orange is the New Black, gave the biennial Vivian R. Shaw Lecture last week at the University of Michigan, she drew a crowd which filled Rackham Auditorium and required live-stream video and overflow seating. Kerman’s memoir of her experience serving time in a women’s prison was adapted into a wildly popular, award-winning Netflix series by executive producer Jenji Kohan in 2013.
Kerman’s presence throughout the lecture was relaxed, yet pointed and, at times, refreshingly irreverent. She opened the lecture by describing life prior to her 13-month incarceration at the Federal Correctional Institute in Danbury, CT. As she chronicled her time behind bars, the themes of her lecture were clear: sisterhood and empathy, gender, power, and racial inequality. Her presentation raised awareness about some damaging stereotypes and stigmas of incarcerated women, as well as challenges that occur upon re-entry to society. Kerman encouraged the audience to use the show as a lens into the greater institutional and systematic oppressions of mass incarceration and how they impact women prisoners – specifically women of color. The Q&A session that followed touched on a variety of topics including popular culture and identity, the importance of arts within prisons, and how to donate books to incarcerated women.
While Kerman currently serves as a consultant for the show, she’s also adamant about supporting nonprofits and other organizations working to advocate for female prisoners, their families, and overall prison reform. Additionally, she teaches creative writing courses to female inmates and serves on the board of the Women’s Prison Association. She has been called as a witness by the U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights to testify on solitary confinement and women prisoners. She has spoken at the White House on re-entry and employment to help honor Champions of Change in the field. In 2014, Kerman was awarded the Justice Trailblazer Award from John Jay College’s Center on Media, Crime & Justice and the Constitutional Commentary Award from The Constitution Project.
In this talk, Kerman offered incredible insight and compassion as she both humanized female prisoners and advocated for thoughtful, intentional, and long-term policy changes.
The 2015 Vivian R. Shaw lecture was co-sponsored by the Institute for Research on Women and Gender, Women Studies Department, Michigan Law School, the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, the School of Social Work, the Department of Screen Arts and Cultures, the Department of Sociology, and the Screen Arts and Cultures Screenwriting Program.
Community contributor CristiEllen Heos Zarvas is the Meetings and Special Events Assistant for the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at the University of Michigan.
Here's a great article by Santi Elijah Holley in Tin House about Ann Arbor's own Literati Bookstore, which opened in 2013 and has been busy bringing indie bookstore culture back to downtown ever since.
From the article:
"Literati is not only a tribute to Ann Arbor’s rich history of art and literature; they have taken inspiration from the city’s past, in order that they might contribute to its future."
At Claire Vaye Watkins’ reading on Wednesday, Sept. 30th at Literati Bookstore, the author summarized her book, Gold Fame Citrus, as being, “about the California drought, more or less." It also ties into what she classified as “two of her fascinations: nuclear waste repositories and mole people.” To be fair though, it’s more about environmental destruction, hope, and survival than it is about mole people.
In the book, a damaged couple who are eking out an existence in a wasted dystopian landscape take in a lost child, forming a little family. This is the catalyst for their decision to venture East into the shifting expanses of sand, where they will encounter more unknowns than they could possibly have anticipated.
This surreal and incredibly original book also comes with a drinking game! The official rules, as laid out by the author at the reading, are as follows:
Read the book.
Drink when you are thirsty.
This is the most sensible drinking game I have ever encountered.
For the Literati reading, Watkins selected “a deep cut” from within the novel, and shared that although the chapter is unnamed in the book, she originally titled it “Wasteland Wasteland Wasteland.”
Two things about her reading selection:
1) It held the entire standing room-only crowd completely captivated; I cannot remember a single cough or shuffle of feet.
2) It had a mole person.
Watkins is an assistant professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Michigan. Gold Fame Citrus has received many positive reviews, including ones from the New York Times and the Washington Post. If you missed the chance to see Watkins in person at Literati, you can check out her NPR interview and appreciate the story of her inspiration in her own words, and you really should. You can borrow Gold Fame Citrus, or Watkins’ 2012 story collection, Battleborn, at AADL.
Sara Wedell is a Production Librarian and fiction selector at the Ann Arbor District Library.