“Recordar: Move back through the heart.”
View this email in your browser
This is the first thing I have even attempted to write in over two weeks.  We are living in a time of pandemic.  What is it that we ask of the storyteller now? What is it about storytelling that can be useful?  Is it the job of storytelling to make sense of this isolation?  Is it about making connection?  Is it bringing us back to some original route?  Allowing us to remember? 
The Spanish word for remembering is recordar.  It is derived from the Latin and it means to move back through the heart.    
I want to move back through the heart.  In truth the one thing that I have been most looking forward to is talking with the kids and educators from University Heights (Bronx, NY) and Floyd County (Langley, KY).  To engage with them and to learn from them and to shoot a line of reality between the past and the present and perhaps even the air of the future.  The prospect of that a few days ago was the one thing that got me up in the morning and allowed me to open this computer file: to move back through the heart.
And then yesterday morning, there they all were.  Students from Kentucky.  Students from the Bronx.  They appeared on Zoom.  I sat back in my writing cabin—where I have been self-isolating for almost ten days after the first leg of my now-postponed book tour—and watched them gather on my computer screen.  One after the other.  I was there to answer questions about my new novel, Apeirogon, but it soon became apparent to me that I was not the one to give out the final answers: it was these young people who were about to show me that we can stay together while being apart. 
A virtual book discussion on Apeirogon with nearly forty of our field exchange students and teachers from the Bronx, NY and Langley, KY, as well as
N4 staff and board members.
It was the first glimpse of true possibility I have had since I closed the cabin door and tried to figure out what sort of grave new world we are living in.  And it cracked the frozen sea within me. The sleep in my language woke up.  And yet this is very bare and straightforward.  I have to point out to you that it is an extraordinary feeling for me, of all people, to want to use the telephone and/or Internet, especially Facebook.  Anybody who knows me knows this.  I’m scared of Facebook.  Twitter makes me twitch.  Instagram sounds like a healthy cereal.  I had a flip phone until recently. 
I have imagined a sewn-together tapestry of storytellers all around the world, but I never felt it move back through the heart in the way that it happened yesterday.  Recordar.   Now—in the very midst of this pandemic—when New York of all places is now the hotspot for the entire world—I feel it circulate for me for the first time.   The fact that I wanted to get online and talk to our young people about art and storytelling and communication pried open my ribcage. 
We should be continually jumping off of cliffs and developing our wings on the way down, said Kurt Vonnegut.  
Years ago a group of writers and activists gathered together in Colorado to probe the meaning of stories and storytelling.  We were brought there by the vision of my co-founder, Lisa Consiglio, along with the generosity of our early and visionary donors, including Jackie and Mike Bezos and Karen Hollins.  What resulted was Narrative 4: fearless hope through radical empathy.  A global non-profit that harnesses the power of storytelling and listening in order to alter the world.  Teachers.  Students.  Artists. Together, stepping into one another’s shoes in order to eventually turn empathy into action.
The first global summit held in Colorado in June of 2012 with founding members including Terry Tempest Williams, Greg Khalil, Rob Spillman, Ron Rash, Lisa Consiglio, Darrell Bourque, Assaf Gavron, Reza Aslan, Ishmael Beah, Andrew Sean Greer, Bill Loizeaux, Firoozeh Dumas, David Wroblewski, Tobias Wolff, Caro Llewellyn, Terry Cooper, Luis Albert Urrea and more!
All along, Lisa has had a vision of an Artists Network.  Essentially this would be a group of artists, maybe 300-plus strong, who would engage with teachers and students on a powerful and personal level.  An army of artists who would go into schools—both virtually and in person—to connect with young people on a level seldom seen before.  A venture that could have consequences for the nature of education and the role of the artist in society. “Artists,” she said, “in every single classroom in the world.”  (Is that all, Lisa?!) 
We have to return to an original place, she suggested, to develop new ways of seeing through the old ways of telling.  
She enlisted myself and Ishmael Beah (author of A Long Way Gone and Radiance of Tomorrow) to somehow envision what this network would look like.  We weren’t sure how it could ever happen, but over the past six months, with the help of the Stand Together Foundation and the Moriah Fund, it has begun to take shape.  And now, after yesterday morning with the students from the Bronx and Kentucky, we know this: it CAN happen and it WILL happen and it MUST happen.  And I, like our many wonderful stakeholders, have known for a while that we at N4 must develop a virtual network.  I have seen iterations of websites.  I’ve talked about portals and I’ve contemplated virtual exchanges.
When I signed on to do a virtual classroom experience with the students yesterday I wasn’t sure what would happen.  I did know that we were in the middle of a pandemic.  I knew I was isolated.  I knew virtually everyone who clicked on the Zoom screen was isolated too.  I felt the thump of loneliness, the weight of it, the sheer pressure.  And yet almost instantly when the faces appeared, they seemed to be together somehow.  I have never felt so comfortable in all my aloneness.  For a while I talked about the novel and then the real magic happened.  The students asked questions—and they were some of the best questions I have ever been asked, but what really shocked me was how real it all felt in this increasingly unreal world.  Yes, we had decided to be together while apart.  And yes the apartness somehow brought us all together.   
A phrase shot across my mind: a pandemic of possibility.   
Imagine this: it is six months from now and we are not quite pandemic free, but we are weaving our way out of it, embracing health and yes inevitably a certain form of fear.  Ishmael Beah gets online with the schools at University Heights and Floyd Central.  He talks with them live.  It is real.  It is not rehearsed.  They are talking about his new novel, Little Family.  But this time it’s not just the two schools online but it’s Gael Cholaiste in Limerick too, and it’s the American School in Tampico, and it’s Tomorrow's Youth Organization in Nablus, and it’s ArtWorks for Youth in Port Elizabeth, and it’s Iowa and it’s Birmingham and it’s Lagos, and it’s Tel Aviv, and it’s where YOU are right now, name any school, name every school.  To be tied together by art.  Knitted by teachers.  Embraced by students.  Brought out into the world and fashioned as a flag we do not wave, but we weave. A little family yes, and an epic one. 
Ishmael Beah alongside his soon-to-be-released new novel, Little Family.

Imagine, then, after Ishmael’s talk that the young people exchange stories, not just within the classroom but virtually too.  Away from the author, but inspired by the author.  The young people in University Heights suddenly exchanging things with Gael Cholaiste Limerick.  And Tampico exchanging with Lagos.  Exchange with an artist a week.  Or exchange with an artist a month.  Have simultaneous exchanges designed for different parts of the world.  Have one in the United States.  Have one in South Africa.  Have one in Italy.  Have one in France.  Have one in Russia. 
And then imagine an archive of this.  An online archive that we can go to at any time.  It is an archive of questions from our young people to our artists.  But it also a living portrait of our times.  A tribute to teachers.   And to storytelling itself. 
And then imagine this happening every day, at a different time, in different parts of the world.  Terry Tempest Williams talking about beauty in the broken places.  Lila Azam Zanganeh opening up the territory of the enchanted.  Assaf Gavron bringing us to the hilltops.  Ruth Gilligan bringing us into the traditions of the Irish landscape.  Darrell Borque leading us towards the music.  Rob Spillman.  Marlon James.  Faisal Mohyuddin.   Andy Sean Greer.  Christine Dwyer Hickey.  Mary O’Malley.  Colm Mac Con Iomaire.  And there are so so so so many others. I always fear naming names because I am afraid I will leave someone out.  But the secret to all this is that it leaves nobody out.  Everyone can engage.  This is, and will be, an Artists Network.  If and when it is done properly it will engage everyone.  Share today, change tomorrow.  

At Narrative 4, we are not hunkering in.  We are not closing the curtains on this.  Our job now is to somehow throw open the windows and bring us together by allowing us to be apart, or perhaps keep us apart by allowing us to be together.  
Thank you, New York.  Thank you, Kentucky.  Thank you everyone, in the everywhere you happen to be.
A Tik Tok video the students from the Bronx, NY and Eastern, KY made for each other when our regional summit, which was planned for this week, was moved to a new virtual platform. More on that soon!
Want to connect? Join Colum for an Apeirogon book club on Facebook Live. 
  • Wednesday, March 25, at 12 noon (EST) and
  • Friday, March 27, at 5 P.M. (EST)
Questions can be submitted in advance on Colum's Facebook page. 

Share today. Change tomorrow.

Copyright © 2020 Narrative 4, All rights reserved.
(332) 333-4392

Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list