Alex Scully

‘This American Life’s’ Ira Glass shares storytelling insights

By Robin Wander

Most college-age students were just wee toddlers when This American Life was born on the radio in 1995. Thus, many grew up listening as their parents listened to host Ira Glass and his quirky contributors – David Sedaris, Sarah Vowell and David Rakoff, to name a few – delight in the ordinary and find poignancy in the everyday. For many, Glass is an American treasure.

On Sunday, Nov. 4, 600 students and fans had the opportunity to see the man behind the voice. The Stanford Storytelling Project  (SSP) and the ASSU Speakers Bureau hosted a seminar on storytelling to a capacity crowd in Cemex Auditorium in accordance with their mission to promote the power and craft of oral storytelling. According to Jonah Willingnganz SSP’s director, there is no one doing it better right now than Glass.

“Glass is a giant in American storytelling,” said Willihnganz in his introduction on Sunday. “He has created more than great stories – he’s created an infectious sensibility that we come away with at the end of every This American Life show. It’s a sensibility of curiosity, attention and even suspicion – a sensibility that there is a lot going on in the simplest of experiences.”

Alex Scully

Students and fans sat in rapt attention as Glass shared insights about story mechanics and the importance of narrative control, as well as some of the secrets of success behind This American Life, which reaches 1.8 million listeners through more than 500 public radio stations each week.

His message to budding storytellers was to find stories they could tell with enthusiasm and wonder. In comparing his radio program to mainstream journalism, he pointed out that what is missing in the average news story is joy, humor and surprise, all the things that make people want to hear a story and which make life worthwhile.

Final words of wisdom from Glass: “It’s normal to be bad before you’re really good.”

The story continues when SSP hosts public appearances by poets Naomi Shihab Nye on Jan. 23 and  Coleman Barks in February. Editor and essayist  Michael Meade is expected in April. In the residences, a student storytelling workshop and performance series called “Show and Tell” will launch next week and culminate in a large public event in May featuring some of the best student storytellers alongside faculty and celebrated story stars such as  Daniel Handler, aka Lemony Snicket. This series supports Glass’ words of advice to students: “Just start making stuff.”

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