Sunday, February 07, 2010

The Future of Story

I was invited to a reception for Governor Award winning poet and novelist Robert Kroetsch yesterday. The reception was held by the University of Alberta Press on the occasion of Kroetsch's 30th book, a poetry collection entitled Too Bad. Kroetsch is known for his witty take on Alberta, as well as his pioneering the form of post-modern literature. I have interviewed Robert Kroetsch a number of times over the years (here is part one of a lengthy interview from 2001, and here is part two), and I find him a source of inspiration and wisdom.

Robert Kroetsch's reception was the final event in a conference held at the Macewan Centre for the Arts called "The Future of Story." Writers, journalists, new media experts, and others who are involved with the telling of stories in our society discussed just that - how we tell stories, what they mean to us, and what the future holds. I did not attend most of the conference, but I did sneak in to the last session which featured a panel of seasoned storytellers, including Robert Kroetsch as well as Rudy Wiebe, Gloria Sawai, Jack Hodgins, and moderated by Aritha van Herk. It was certainly a who's who of Alberta writers (okay, Hodgins is an expat, but who's keeping track?).

I tweeted quite a bit during that session, and here is some of what I gleaned:

Every story begets need for more stories.

We base our very existence on stories.

The task is to make up what isn't made up.

Story is at once glue and solvents. It brings us together, breaks us down. (All of these pearls above came from Robert Kroetsch)

We are all Titanics and going down with the ship. We read for distraction and entertainment. (Glorai Sawai)

A place or person can be certified through being in a story or movie. (Jack Hodgins)

Humans are story making species. It is who we are and what we do. (Rudy Wiebe)

Speech and language greatest creative power we have. (Rudy Wiebe)

Stories help us live. Instruct us, help us to deal with death. (Rudy Wiebe)

Questions were raised as to the role of fact in storytelling, and how the distinction between fact and fiction are getting blurred, in part because of the use of social media (I suppose because rumours, lies, and rants can take on a life of their own).

So what is the future of storytelling? My observations and reflections come from my different roles as an editor, journalist, songwriter, photographer, and avid user of social media. Stories can be told in so many different ways. News articles record history and tells what is hopefully an accurate report to a community. Songs tell stories of love, loss, or social issues using a medium that appeals to the ears instead of the eyes. Photographs? They really do tell a thousand words - and are sometimes open to interpretation. Social media can tell what is happening in real time, can spread ideas, can also be a source of frustration when ideas and words clash.

Stories will always be with us, as long as we are here because like us, stories live and grow. The medium by which they are communicated and preserved may vary and likely will change over time. However, we are never going to lose stories unless we banish ourselves to silence.

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