SpeakeasyDC Celebrates the Art of Storytelling
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Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.
I'm Doug Johnson. This week:
We play music by the comedian, actor and singer Wayne Brady ...
And answer a listener question about the most literate cities in the United States ...
But first we want to tell you a story about a group of storytellers.
Once upon a time, there was a person with a teacher, a crowd and a microphone. So, the person began to tell a story.
This is the general idea behind an organization in Washington, D.C. called SpeakeasyDC. The group started about twelve years ago out of the Washington Storytellers Theater. SpeakeasyDC helps train and gather people who are interested in perfecting the art of storytelling. Its aim is to entertain, create meaning and build community. The group does this through the performance of personal stories based on real life experiences. Faith Lapidus tells us more.
SARAH HOLT: "I knew I was going to meet Lady Luck, I could smell her. She was around the corner. I would see her peek out then she would dodge back in …"
That was one of eight trained storytellers who performed earlier this month. The subject for the evening was "Black Cats and Four Leaf Clovers: Stories about Good and Bad Luck".
Once a month, people come together at a restaurant in Washington to listen to several storytellers perform. All the storytellers must receive training from a SpeakeasyDC teacher to make sure their stories are well developed with interesting details. And, the storytellers must follow several rules. Their story must be under seven minutes long and it must be true. Some of the stories are very funny.
VIJAI NATHAN: "It is one of those eat-your-heart-out kinds of dresses. The kind of dress that you dream of wearing when you're on the arm of a gorgeous man. And he's in a tuxedo and you're rushing to get to the theater and you bump into your ex."
Other stories give an interesting description of another person's experiences.
LATIF DOMAN: "About eight years ago, a good friend of mine called me up. She says, 'there is a new law firm, a personal injury firm starting in Washington, D.C. You should apply.'"
SpeakeasyDC gatherings are very popular. People enjoy attending because the stories are fun to listen to. And there is a more personal connection to the entertainment than going to a movie or the theater.
Amy Saidman is the executive director of SpeakeasyDC. She says the event is so popular because storytelling is very human.
AMY SAIDMAN: "It's not reality TV, it's real reality. It's people really telling their true story and they get a window into other people's lives. The whole goal is to be yourself as much as possible so we can hear your voice and get to know you."
Sarah Holt performed the first story you heard. She says that she enjoys the excitement of telling stories to a crowd because she is an actress. But she also works in public relations and says that being able to tell a good story is very important in any job.
America's Most Literate Cities
Our listener question this week comes from China. Chun-Quan Meng wants to know about America's most literate cities.
A literate person is able to read and write. But this question is not about whether people can read, but whether or not they do read. For several years, the president of Central Connecticut State University, John Miller, has been helping to answer this question. So which cities have the most readers?
Last year's results show Minneapolis, Minnesota and Seattle, Washington tied in the top position for most literate city. They are followed by Washington D.C.; Saint Paul, Minnesota; San Francisco, California; Atlanta, Georgia and Denver, Colorado.
The rest of the top cities are Boston, Massachusetts and Saint Louis, Missouri. Cincinnati, Ohio and Portland, Oregon are tied for tenth place.
Mr. Miller studied cities with a population of over two hundred fifty thousand. He looked at six things. He considered a city's newspaper sales, the number of bookstores and library resources. He also studied magazine publishing resources, educational levels and Internet resources. Internet resources included online book orders and the number of visits to a city's online newspaper.
His sources for information included the United States Census Bureau, the American Booksellers Association and the Audit Bureau of Circulations.
Mr. Miller found that a literate society generally tends to practice many forms of reading. For example, he found that high Internet use is linked to high levels of reading printed materials. And he found that cities with well-used libraries also have greater numbers of people who buy books online.
Mr. Miller says that what matters most is not whether the rank of cities changes over the years. He says what is most important is that cities support the kinds of literacy methods that the study examines.
Seattle and Minneapolis have been at the top of this list since two thousand four. The same ten cities stay at the top of the list from year to year, although their order may change slightly.
John Miller says that literacy is an important sign of the nation's well-being. He says the extent and quality of long-term literacy is important to individual economic success and quality of life in a community and a nation.
He is also working on a similar literacy study for cities around the world.
Wayne Brady has been entertaining people as television show host, comedian, actor, dancer and singer. He recently released his first album, "A Long Time Coming." Barbara Klein tells more about Wayne Brady and plays songs from his new album.
Wayne Brady is probably best known for his appearances on the television show "Who's Line is it Anyway?" a few years ago. The show featured a form of comedy known as improvisation. This means there were no written scripts and many surprises. The actors made up most of the material as they performed. Brady made up funny songs about many different subjects. Many people thought Wayne Brady's voice was very good.
Brady says he has always liked singing. He sang songs on the albums of other major artists. This led him to write and record songs for his own album, "A Long Time Coming." The love song "Ordinary" celebrates the beauty of simple things in everyday life.
Music critics praise Wayne Brady's new album. They say his voice is warm and soulful. The song "F.W.B." takes you back to classic soul music made famous by rhythm and blues singer Marvin Gaye.
We leave you with another song from Wayne Brady's album "A Long Time Coming." He sings his version of Sam Cooke's song "A Change is Gonna Come."
I'm Doug Johnson. I hope you enjoyed our program today.
It was written by Lawan Davis and Dana Demange who was also the producer. Join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC, VOA's radio magazine in Special English.