The Stanford Storytelling Project is proud to sponsor and collaborate closely with several undergraduate courses that explore the craft and history of storytelling. For full listings and to register for these courses students should visit explore courses.
Finding Your Story
Spring Quarter 2013, PWR 91F
Life challenges us to become aware of the stories that shape us—family stories, cultural mythologies, even popular movies, television shows, and songs—and then create and live our own story. We face this challenge throughout our lives but perhaps most acutely as we move into adulthood; this is the period when we most need to become conscious of stories and their power, and to gather wisdom, practices, and resources for finding our own story. This class, designed with seniors in mind, will illuminate and explore these resources and give you the opportunity to reflect deeply, in discussion and writing, on what truly calls to you in this life.
We will engage with some of the world’s great stories—myths, parables, teaching tales, modern fiction, even aphorisms, koans, and riddles. In them we can find both elements that resonate with our own story and provocations that help us unearth and cultivate our native gifts—the genius in each of us. We will look at short excerpts from masterworks and myths from around the world, all voices in the largest conversation we have as humans, the one that asks: who am I? why am I here? what truly matters? how can I be happy? Together we will investigate how these stories, and stories like them, can be used to help us find our own story.
The scholar and storyteller Michael Meade says that we live two adventures in each life. The first involves securing our basic needs and making a place for ourselves in the world. The second is learning, deeply and continuously, who we are and what we stand for. This is a class for the second adventure.
The Oral Tradition: Myth, Folklore, and Fairy Tale
Winter Quarter 2013, PWR91E
Contemporary storytelling covers a variety of media—from movies to novels, theatre, and beyond. What this course offers is an in-depth study of the roots of that practice: the oral tradition. Over the course we will explore many different motifs and structures that arise in the oral tradition, myth, folklore, and fairy tale. What universal themes do we detect, and what separates the progression of a Pacific Northwest Trickster story from an Arthurian romance? Why is it that in the early twenty-first century many of our most acclaimed art forms carry narrative forms that are thousands of years old? Star Wars, Lord of the Rings,and the recent Broadway show Jerusalem all follow scenic progressions informed by myth.
The first encounter with storytelling will be an oral narrative—a myth told unscripted in the classroom. The stories, which range from the Arthurian romance Parzival to Trickster folk tales, will be told in several sections—with a running exegesis and student response alongside. Many of these stories are now transcripts and have become works of literature. We will explore both the complementary aspects of this development, and areas of tension.
During the course each student will research a story handed down within the family—an adventure of some distant relative, or a family migration from one country to another. Factoring in elements from the class, the student will mythologize the story: by writing an in-depth commentary on its implications factoring in contemporary, psychological, and metaphorical associations. The second element will be to tell the story to the class. In these ways we experience myth as a living principle, not something just from “a long time ago.”
Your American Life
Fall Quarter 2012, PWR91D
Have you ever been spellbound by a simple, true story, told live or on a broadcast like This American Life or The Moth Radio Hour? If you've ever tried to create the same kind of impact with a story of your own, you'll know that however simple a story might be, telling it usually requires a lot of skill. This class will give you that skill.
All of us have terrific insights to share, and they usually come straight from our own experience. One of best forms for sharing these insights is through the told story, sometimes known as the oral memoir or essay, a form that has become increasingly popular thanks to authors like David Sedaris, Malcolm Gladwell, Sarah Vowell, Jack Hitt, and Mike Birbiglia and public radio programs such as This American Life, Radio Diaries, Sound Portraits, RadioLab, and podcasts produced by The Moth and StoryCorps.
In this course, you’ll read and listen to some of the most moving and insightful pieces of the last decade, explore the important differences between print and oral storytelling, and then script and record your own full-length audio piece. Along the way, we will explore many craft elements that apply equally to print and audio pieces. You will learn, for example, how to organize your material, choose an effective structure, blend dramatization and reflection, ground insights in concrete scenes, create a strong narrative arc, and manage elements such as characterization, description, and dialogue. We will also, of course, explore craft elements unique to the audio form and you will learn how to use your voice and other sonic elements to craft the kind of piece you might hear on This American Life.
Through a special arrangement with the Stanford Storytelling Project, in the fall of 2012 this course will feature special session with Ira Glass, founder of This American Life.
Stories for the Air
Winter Quarter 2013, EGL191T
David Sedaris’ humiliating stint as one of Santa’s helpers. Davy Rothbart’s journey to Brazil in search of a miracle healer. Sarah Vowell’s hilarious road trip to presidential assassination sites across the country. By focusing on personal experiences, these writers have moved readers with their approachable, honest and confessional voices.
With the rising popularity of radio programs such as StoryCorps and This American Life, along with a media revolution that has made recording and distributing audio essays easier than ever, an increasing number of us are finding new outlets to tell our stories. In this course, we'll read classic and contemporary essays as writers, looking at the ways in which conventions of craft are applied and understood—and sometimes re-interpreted or subverted. We'll then write and workshop our own personal essays, which we'll record as a show, dedicated to the work we’ve created as a class.
The Art of Storytelling
Fall Quarter 2013, PWR91A
We live by and through stories: family stories, national stories, stories of personal transformation and spiritual revelation. Stories are the medium of our lives, a vehicle for changing our lives, and thus understanding how they work and how to use them gives us enormous power, as almost any artist, politician, or executive will tell you. In this course we investigate a variety of storytelling forms to build a repertoire of tools for telling the stories that are important to us, whatever form they take—oral, textual, visual, sonic, or some combination thereof.
We will begin with what is arguably still the most common and influential form of narrative, oral storytelling. We listen to segments of Homer’s Odyssey, WPA oral histories from the 1930’s, and public radio’s This American Life, discussing what the fields of rhetoric, linguistics, and neuroscience have revealed about both the nature of narrative and our experience of it in oral form.
We will then look at forms of textual narrative, especially modern fiction and memoir, identifying the principal features that distinguish textual storytelling. Next, we turn to visual storytelling by exploring the “grammar” of forms such as the photo essay, text-less cartoon, and silent film, comparing their strategies to oral and textual forms. In the second part of the course we will turn to forms that combine the oral, textual, and visual—the feature film, the graphic novel, and video games.