New book from The Moth shares their secrets to storytelling

"How to Tell a Story: The Essential Guide to Memorable Storytelling from The Moth" is out now.(Photo credit: Laura Partain)

Storytelling is essential to the human experience. It’s how we share our lives with friends and family and how we develop deeper connections. If you love a good story, you might already be familiar with the non-profit storytelling group “The Moth,” which started 25 years ago in a tiny New York City apartment. “The Moth” has grown into nothing less than a storytelling sensation, and its platform has enabled countless people to tell their true personal stories.

The Moth Radio Hour,” heard on WABE on Sundays at noon, is a showcase of stories from live “Moth” events. On the show, participants share vulnerable, funny – and most importantly, truthful – personal stories. In celebration of the 25th anniversary of “The Moth,” they have released a book that dives into their story development process, titled “How to Tell a Story.” Catherine Burns, artistic director for “The Moth,” joined “City Lights” senior producer Kim Drobes via Zoom along with Jon Goode, an Atlanta-based Emmy-nominated author, poet and playwright who is regularly a host of Moth Story Slams in town.

Interview highlights:

How the “Moth” book reveals universal community through 25 years of storytelling:

“I think that when we hear each other’s stories, we discover that we have far more in common than we have differences,” said Goode. “I’ve seen night after night, at the end of the night, people from the audience will go up to the storytellers – people who they may share nothing in common with, you know, race, gender, economic circumstances – they share nothing in common, and they stand there for 30 minutes after the show, and they just talk to each other.”

Burns explained, “There was a great desire to write down everything that we’ve learned, and to write it in a way that wouldn’t just be about people telling stories of ‘The Moth,’ hopefully, but would also be for somebody who wants to tell a really great story in a job interview, someone who wants to connect with their grandmother and try to tell her stories, ask for her stories; someone who might have to give a eulogy, which is one of the hardest storytelling situations you can be in.”

Reflecting the warmth of a live “Moth” audience:

“‘Moth’ audiences are the greatest in the world. It doesn’t matter if you’re in Georgia or Kenya or Tajikistan, they just show up and just want you to be yourself, and there’s just such a supportive energy coming from them,” said Burns. “I love seeing that person walk out so nervous that like, I’m actually monitoring them to make sure they don’t just run away and jump in a cab, or suddenly take off. And then they walk out, and in a minute, they feel that love of the audience, and they get going, and all of a sudden, they just light up, and they’re filled with joy. And they kind of float off the stage, and most people say they’d be happy to turn right around and go back out and do it again.”

On the crucial question of whether to leave the mic on the stand:

“Years ago, we had Darrell McDaniel, who’s one of the founders of Run DMC, telling a story, and yeah, we were a little intimidated,” Burns recounted. “I mean, this is a man who’s just like, a complete legend, and… I could not bring myself to tell Darrell that he had to leave the mic in the stand. So he takes it off. I mean, there’s never been a more aerobic telling of the story. I mean, he was squatting, he was standing up… and it was wonderful. But it was, you know, a little distracting in its own way.”

She went on, “But afterward, he said to me, ‘You know, Catherine, I see what you mean with how everyone else does it.’ And the next time I tell a story, I’m gonna leave the mic in the stand. And we were like, ‘What? Mic drop – or, like, mic put-back-up.’ Anyway… ever since then, we never waiver, because our feeling is… if he leaves the mic on the stand, then everyone else can too.”

The new book from “The Moth,” “How to Tell a Story,” is available here