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From the winner of the 2014 Regional Emmy Award for A Farm Winter with Jerry Apps
Jerry Apps, renowned author and veteran storyteller, believes that storytelling is the key to maintaining our humanity, fostering connection, and preserving our common history. In Telling Your Story, he offers tips for people who are interested in telling their own stories. Readers will learn how to choose stories from their memories, how to journal, and find tips for writing and oral storytelling as well as Jerry's seasoned tips on speaking to a live radio or TV audience.
Telling Your Story reveals how Jerry weaves together his stories and teaches how to transform experiences into cherished tales. Along the way, readers will learn about the value of storytelling and how this skill ties generations together, preserves local history, and much more.
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.50(d)|
About the Author
Jerry Apps taught at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for 38 years. He has taught creative writing workshops, with an emphasis on telling stories, for 45 years. Apps is a full-time writer and part-time teacher and public speaker. He recently completed three hour-long television documentaries, all featuring storytelling, that PBS stations across the nation have aired. He is currently working on a fourth documentary. Connect with him on www.jerryapps.com
Read an Excerpt
Telling Your Story
Preserve Your History Through Storytelling
By Jerry Apps
Fulcrum PubslishingCopyright © 2016 Jerry Apps
All rights reserved.
Why Tell Your Story?
My father and my uncles were storytellers, and so were several of the neighbors in the farming community where I grew up in central Wisconsin. Family members told stories when we gathered for celebrations, birthday parties, anniversaries, and at Christmas and Thanksgiving family affairs. Our farm neighbors told stories during threshing and wood sawing bees, while they waited at the grist mill for their cow feed to be ground, and when they came to town on Saturday nights and waited for their wives to grocery shop. These stories were always entertaining, as many of them had a humorous bent to them, but they also were filled with information — how the cattle were surviving during the summer drought, what price Sam got for his potato crop and how he managed to get that price. How the weather this year was not nearly as bad as the weather twenty years ago. Many of the stories were also sad, such as how Frank was making it on his poor farm since his wife died and left him with three kids to feed and care for.
I heard some of these stories many times, each told a little differently when it was shared, but enjoyed as much as the time before. When I graduated from college in 1955, I began a long career as a teacher. I was soon telling stories as a teaching method. As the years passed, I discovered how much I enjoyed telling my stories, both in written form and spoken in front of an audience. I also discovered that people enjoyed my stories when I shared them on radio and television.
In 1999, I was in New York City as part of an international group discussing the arts for people over age 50. The week-long session, sponsored by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and UNESCO, the educational arm of the United Nations, focused on developing suggestions for how middle-aged people and older could become more involved in the arts, and how they and the world might benefit from them doing so. We discussed sculpting and painting, dance and folk arts — and storytelling. I was in the storytelling group, and we discussed and made several suggestions about the importance of storytelling and how to encourage people to do it.
Each sub-group was asked to select a spokesperson who would present the group's report to the United Nation's delegates at the end of the week. I was selected to give the storytelling group's report and I never forgot the experience. Here I was, at the podium in the beautiful United Nations building, looking out over a sea of delegates, many wearing headphones that provided them with a translation to their own language of what I had to say. Sitting close behind me was Kofi Annan, then Secretary General of the UN. I had fifteen minutes to deliver my message.
I don't recall the exact words I used, but I tried to convey that storytelling and stories were as old as humankind and that they remained important and could make many valuable contributions. I couldn't tell by looking at the audience if they agreed with me, disagreed with me, or just didn't care. When I finished — mine was the last in a series of brief talks about the arts — I left the podium and stepped off to the side. I noticed that several delegates had lined up to talk with me. I expected to hear such things as: "You were talking about an earlier day when people had time to share stories. Today the events of the world move too rapidly for storytelling." I expected someone to say, "Today's world requires more modern ways of communicating, and storytelling ought to be relegated to history."
But that's not what I heard. The first person thanked me for sharing the importance of storytelling, as did the second, who went on to say that it was as important today as it has ever been, perhaps even more so.
But what the third person said has stayed with me most clearly. A woman from an African country that I can't remember looked me right in the eye and said, "In my country, we have known the power of stories for generations; we know their importance and we encourage their telling." Continuing without a hint of a smile, she said, "You people have allowed others to tell your story. You've allowed novels, TV, and the movies to tell your story."
I didn't know how to respond, for at that moment with the words "you people," I apparently represented everyone in the United States. I didn't know how to respond because I knew she was right. We have become enamored with the stories on TV, in the films that we see, and the novels that we read. We have come to believe that our individual stories and their telling no longer matter — that they somehow are irrelevant in the larger scheme of things.
By 1999, I had been involved for nearly 30 years in teaching writing workshops designed to help people get in touch with and write their own stories. I had also published several books that included my personal stories. When I taught graduate courses at the University of Wisconsin — Madison, I regularly used storytelling as part of my teaching approach. But during my last several years of teaching at the university, I had come to doubt the importance of stories and storytelling. In fact, one of my university colleagues told me, "Students these days don't have time for stories — they want the information they need to succeed in their fields as efficiently and quickly as possible. There is no time for storytelling." Another colleague was even more blunt. He said, "Apps, if you didn't spend so much time writing and telling stories, you might amount to something."
This is why what the African UN delegate said to me resonated so strongly. She affirmed what I already knew: that stories and storytelling were important, and that we in the United States have indeed allowed others to tell our stories. From that day on, I never wavered in my zeal for writing and telling stories, and helping others write their stories. I have long known how important stories are to me, to my family, and for those who live in my community. Through my writing workshops, I have seen the power of stories and storytelling come alive in front of me as participants wrote their stories and shared them.
Now my challenge became how to encourage others to tell their stories. One way to do this was to help people see what telling their individual stories could accomplish, and why personal stories can be one of the most valuable things a person possesses. Nancy Lamb said it well when she wrote, "I believe we look to story for a connection to our past. Story reaches beyond the written word to create an unconscious continuity with our earliest ancestors, as well as with future generations ... in making these connections, we honor where we came from, who we are, and what we can become."
I tell the students who attend my life story writing workshops, "We are our histories." I point out that when we tell our stories we can begin to understand who we are.
Recently, I completed two hour-long documentaries for public television in which I told stories about what farm life was like during the latter years of the Depression and through World War II. These were my stories of life on a central Wisconsin farm during a time when electricity had not yet come to the country, when we milked cows by hand, heated our farmhouse with wood stoves, and I attended a one-room country school with one teacher and all eight grades in one room.
After the programs aired, I received stories from people with similar experiences from all around the country and many from Canada as well. It seemed by telling my stories, it gave permission for others to tell theirs.
The benefits of storytelling are many. Families benefit as stories tie generations together. Communities also benefit, for as community members share their personal stories and their histories, a community can began to understand itself. The historical record benefits because the stories told by ordinary people add a depth and breadth to history that goes beyond what the professional historians are able to accomplish. The stories of ordinary people entertain, they inform, and they can influence as well. As new challenges appear and new problems emerge, revisiting the stories of a community can often offer insight to those making decisions about future directions. There is some truth to what philosopher George Santayana said: "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
The Importance of Stories
In our hurry-up, highly technological society, which too often appears to be controlled by electronic devices that send terse little messages with invented words, we overlook the importance of stories. Why are stories important?
Stories help us recall the past while opening a window to the future. One of the one-liners that I share with my writing students is: "We don't know where we're going until we know where we've been." Stories tie us to our past and at the same time provide a platform for facing the future.
Stories evoke feelings and deeper thoughts. Stories usually include facts about an event or a memory we may hold, but by weaving the facts into a story we touch feelings and move ourselves to think more deeply about what we are reading or hearing, especially as it relates to our own lives.
My family has a great storytelling tradition. Whenever we get together, stories become a part of the conversation. I tell stories. My children tell stories that have been passed on from my grandfather, to my father, to me, to my children, and now to my grandchildren.
By sharing our stories, we are coming out from behind ourselves. We are letting other people know a little more of who we are. By telling stories, we also let ourselves know a little more about who we are.
Storytelling can take us to a place within ourselves where we have never been. It can change us forever. Those are powerful words, but I've seen this happen again and again as I have worked with more than 1,000 writing students over the past 40 years. And it has happened to me personally several times as I have examined the life I've lived and have written stories about it.
Our stories can help us discover meaning in our lives without defining or describing it. As we write our personal stories, we often discover meaning that defies definition and description. This newly discovered meaning may be difficult to put into words, yet it may have a profound effect on us personally.
Stories help make us human; when we forget our stories, we forget who we are. Stories ground us, give us pleasure, and provide a sense of purpose in our lives.
Stories are the history of a civilization. They chronicle the history of families, farms, villages, and cities. These stories stitched together form the history of who we are as a people.
I discovered long ago that one of the best ways to learn, and often the easiest, is with a story. As a longtime teacher, I tell stories to make a point. I often hear from my former students who will share a story that I told and tell me how they have never forgotten the point that it made. Remembering a story is usually far easier than memorizing a list of dates, names, and places that so many students are asked to memorize. Put these dates, names, and places in a story and the message comes alive; the information is now in context with relevance and meaning.
The mental pictures in the stories we tell are often far better than those we see on television or in the movies. As a kid I listened to radio programs: The Lone Ranger, Terry and the Pirates, Captain Midnight, Jack Armstrong, and others. I listened on a battery-operated radio as we had no electricity on the farm. But listen I did and in my mind I formed vivid pictures of exactly what was happening. The stories tapped into my imagination and I lived them right along with the radio actors who were telling them. I saw the pictures in my mind as clearly as if they were printed on paper.
By sharing our stories, we come out from behind ourselves. We let other people know a little more about who we are. We also let ourselves know more about who we are. Storytelling can take us to a place within ourselves where we have never been and can change us forever.
I've seen this happen again and again as I've worked with more than a thousand writing students over the past forty years. And it has happened to me several times as I have examined the life I've lived and written stories about it.
Personal Benefits of Storytelling
A dozen or so years ago, a man named Charlie enrolled in my week-long writing workshop at The Clearing. The Clearing, in northern Door County, Wisconsin, is a residential adult learning center devoted to the arts and humanities, with classes ranging from writing to woodcarving, from quilting to music appreciation, and from painting to nature study.
Charlie did not want to be in my workshop; it was his son's idea and his son even paid his fees to attend. Charlie, in his late 70s at the time, was a World War II veteran. He had served in Okinawa and had told no one about his war experiences, not even his wife. He had no intention of telling anyone. Yet, that was the reason his son paid his way to the writing workshop, for Charlie's son wanted his twin sons, Charlie's grandsons, to know what Charlie had experienced during the war.
Charlie was slim and rather soft spoken, and had a wry sense of humor. He was friendly to everyone, except when the topic of WWII came up. Then he simply clammed up and refused to talk about it.
On the first day of the workshop, when I asked participants to say a word or two about who they were, where they were from, and what they hoped to gain from the week, Charlie muttered something about how his family wanted him to write some of his war experiences. From the look on Charlie's face, it was clear he wished he were anywhere else but in this writing workshop. Charlie's wife, Jean, attended the workshop with him. She said she had wanted to write something about how she and Charlie had first met, but said nothing about Charlie's assignment from his son.
That first day, the group met two hours in the morning and another two hours in the afternoon. Charlie said little. He sat there, looking very uncomfortable.
On the second day, Charlie asked if he could meet with me privately, an offer I had extended to everyone in the workshop. That afternoon, when the formal workshop session ended, I sat with a very glum-looking Charlie. He said to me, "You know I'm supposed to be writing my war stories while I'm here, don't you?"
"Yes, I know that," I said. Jean had told me privately about what their son had done.
"Well, I just don't know where to start — it's a long, terrible story."
I asked him where he had served, and he said "Okinawa. And it was awful."
Then he began telling me the story of his unit's landing on that Japanese- controlled island. As he talked, the tears began running down his face as the horrid memories of April 1945 came flooding back in vivid detail. He talked for an hour, nearly nonstop. I listened. He stopped when it was time for supper, and before we parted, I said he should write down what he had just told me.
"Nobody wants to know about all of this," Charlie said.
"Your family wants to know," I said quietly. And so Charlie began writing and, outside of the time he spent in class and at meals, he wrote constantly that week. He eventually published a book, The Battle of Okinawa: My Experience, The Last Battle of World War II. He began his book with these words:
At 0300 hours we were awakened in our quarters below deck by Captain Haddo, who announced we were disembarking at 0600 hours into enemy territory, specifically the island of Okinawa. We had been briefed by our officers only the day before as to our destination. For weeks we thought it was going to be the southern beaches of Japan.
Charlie went on to share in vivid detail the awfulness of war, the heroics of some, and the plain luck of others who survived without a physical scratch but with emotional wounds that lasted a lifetime.
As the workshop week progressed, I could see a change in Charlie as these pent-up memories spilled out on paper and were shared orally with other workshop participants. He was smiling more; the sullen expression of the first days in class had disappeared. Charlie's story is but one of many that I heard from veterans who had clammed up when they returned home from war.
Excerpted from Telling Your Story by Jerry Apps. Copyright © 2016 Jerry Apps. Excerpted by permission of Fulcrum Pubslishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Part I Your Story
1 Why Tell Your Story? 5
2 What Is a Story? 13
3 Ways to Tell Stories 17
Part II Where Do Stories Come From?
4 Memories and Memory Triggers 23
5 Research and How to Do It 41
6 Journaling 51
Part III Creating Your Story
7 Choosing Which Stories to Tell 61
8 What Every Story Needs 71
9 Tips for Writing Your Story 91
10 Overcoming Blocks 103
11 Revising and Rewriting 111
Part IV Telling Your Story Beyond the Page
12 Speaking to a Live Audience 123
13 Storytelling on Radio 131
14 Appearing on Television 135