Who are your storytelling heroes?

Storytelling is an ancient art—there are many who inspire us.

Today we’re honoring our storytelling heroes. Our passion for story is shaped by these people who have shared their stories in ways that changed the way we see the world.

Storytelling Heroes

Who are your storytelling heroes?

Hannah: First, let’s talk about visual storytellers, because they see the world from such a unique perspective. Caryn Sterling is a local graphic recorder, meaning she visually documents meetings, conferences, speakers, collaboration sessions, you name it. Her documentation gives an unmeasurable amount of value to capturing conversation and and understanding stories. Maria Fabrizio, illustrator and designer behind Wordless News, takes one story a day and conceptually represents it through art. “One headline per day, vowel and consonant free.”

My admiration for storytelling in a more traditional sense, goes to Free Range Studios for capturing stories that inspire real change and their story war methodology that empowers everyone to be a champion of their core story.

Nation: My storytelling heroes are many.

I am a huge fan of essayists — including Megan Daum who often writes about the power of claiming our own narratives and Anne Lamott who has helped me through dark moments in my life with her own unique blend of humor, love, and faith.

Aaron Sorkin is one of my favorite storytellers in the television medium. Sometimes when I am in need of inspiration I just pop in an episode of The West Wing. Twenty hours in America is one of my favorite episodes which features President Josiah Bartlett delivering an inspiring message to the country following a bombing on a college campus. Bartlett declares, “Three swimmers from the men’s team were killed, and two others are in critical condition, when, after having heard the explosion from their practice facility, they ran into the fire to help get people out. Ran into the fire. The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels tonight. They’re our students and our teachers and our parents and our friends. The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels, but every time we think we have measured our capacity to meet a challenge, we look up and we’re reminded that that capacity may well be limitless. This is a time for American heroes. We will do what is hard. We will achieve what is great. This is a time for American heroes and we reach for the stars.”

How inspiring is that? Isn’t it always a great time to reach for the stars?

Chris: One of my storytelling heroes is Jelly Helm. Jelly has a unique way of thinking about how to better tell engaging stories to the world, drawing inspiration from the classic storytelling tradition and from great design. He’s worked with some really amazing brands like Wikipedia and Starbucks, but doesn’t rub your nose in it. Just a nice guy trying to help great organizations tell their stories better.

Elise: On a daily basis I am inspired by the storytelling finesse of our local WUNC Radio correspondents. Especially Eric Hodge on Morning Edition and Frank Stasio on The State of Things. Their programs are like windows into other lives. When I am so wrapped up in my own life, the stories they report from around the world give me insights and perspectives that move me to laughter, to amazement, and sometimes to tears. On the weekends I love catching Glynn Washington on Snap Judgement— “It’s storytelling…with a beat.”

Elizabeth: Nerd alert. My favorite storyteller is Neil Gaiman. Short fiction, novels, children’s books, film, television, and yes, comic books. What draws me to his work over and over again is the way he recreates stories and pieces of culture that I know and have have taken for granted into something new. One of my favorite books of his is The Graveyard Book. He adapts Kipling’s The Jungle Book chapter by chapter into a chilling tale of a boy raised in a graveyard by the likes of ghosts and vampires.

In the introduction of his most recent collection of short stories, Trigger Warnings. He captures what makes storytelling so important to me.

“We build stories in our heads. We take words, and we give them power, and we look through other eyes, and we see, and experience, what others see.”

Tom:  One of my favorite storytellers is Jimmy Buffet.  Not only do I happen to like his music, it is really the lyrics from his music that capture my imagination.  When I hear his songs—whether it’s “Boat Drinks”, “Margaritaville” or “Cheeseburger in Paradise”, I can imagine for just a minute that I am sitting under a coconut palm, toes in the water with an adult beverage in my hand…. what fun!

Marie: Not going to lie here. J.K. Rowling. I had a three year phase of my life during High School when I was Harry Potter obsessed. Rowling is one of many storytellers who is able not just to imagine a completely new world, but also turn it into words and share it with millions of people. Jimmy Chin is another storyteller who captures the essence of life in a way I find especially beautiful. He uses photography, video, and writing to tell both his own stories and the stories of others during expeditions to some of the most remote places in the world.

Mary Elizabeth: David Sedaris. I love his honesty, sharp wit, and uncanny ability to turn the mundane into thoughtful examinations of culture. One essay that always comes to mind as a favorite, Standing By, a hilarious piece about flying that had me in tears from laughing so hard.

Matt: David Brooks, in the The Social Animal, crafts a story that uniquely presents the impact of public policy and human development centered around two fictional characters. It’s a fascinating perspective on how policy affects lives. Christopher McDougall does a similar thing in Born to Run, where he uncovers ideas about human evolution, biomechanics, nutrition, history — a range of topics — and weaves them masterfully together through a story about the best American ultramarathoners racing a Central American tribe.

Jonathan: My storytelling heroes are the stylists. The artists who can not only tell a perfectly structured story, but tell it in a way that is so uniquely and unforgettably theirs. The way Ernest Hemingway could craft an entire story in a simple sentence. The way Wes Anderson creates worlds in his films that are like imagination brought to life in perfect detail. The way Martin Scorcese chooses music in his films that so perfectly track the rise and fall of his characters. Or the way Billie Holiday, who would have been 100 years old yesterday, lived every song she sang, and every song became her story.

Now—we’d love to know what you think. Who are your storytelling heroes? Join the conversation on Twitter @newkind #powerofstory or on Facebook.

Want to grow more comfortable as a storyteller? Join us for The Power of Story Workshop on April 22. Learn more and sign up here. You’ll leave equipped and inspired to better bring your organization’s story to life.

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