In May 2018 two Frequency alums, Judee Barr and Fallon Masterson, started Stranger Stories, a bi-monthly reading series where local writers come together to share true stories and personal essays in an intimate space. Artistic Director Rosalynde Vas Dias was thrilled to interview them.
Rosalynde: So, speaking for myself specifically and Frequency generally, it is pretty exciting to have two Frequency alums starting a story telling series here in the greater PVD area. Can you fill us in on the origin story of Stranger Stories? And have you used “Origin stories” as a theme yet?
Fallon: No, but that’s a great theme! The series came about because I lived in Chicago for a bit and took part in the live lit scene there. “Live lit” being defined as these readings of personal essays and creative non-fiction, a hybrid of storytelling and spoken word, but you’re “on-book” and reading from your work. (You can basically find a live lit show any day of the week there, it’s crazy how many there are!) When I moved back to Providence, I missed the ability to share my writing in that way and wanted to start a night. Then I met Judee at Frequency and realized she’d be the perfect person to bring the idea to life with me. She’d been hosting these salons at her apartment at the time, and had a real love for the community-building spirit of sharing your life experiences.
Judee: Yes, Frequency brought us together! Fallon wrote a piece about enchanted dust from New Mexico and another piece about being Italian, and I had to email her after class to say how much I enjoyed her writing. I loved her idea of creating a Providence space for writers of all levels to practice and share the personal essay form. I was holding these gatherings in my living room to make space for artists to share their work, and sharing pieces of our lives in a communal forum felt really powerful. We decided to give a reading series a shot! Thus began Stranger Stories. It’s been so much fun, and a thrill to get some support from the RI State Council of the Arts.
Rosalynde: Is there a particular bias you have as a ‘reader/curator’ when you are screening submissions for Stranger Stories?
Fallon: I’m always going to advocate for a story that I think will make an audience laugh. Even if it’s largely about something serious, if there’s a joke or two that seems like it’ll land, I’ll push for it. Pieces that are too maudlin risk veering on melodrama when they’re read out loud, if the writer isn’t careful. It can be done, though!
Judee: One of the things I love about creative non-fiction are those hilariously honest details that the writer can pinpoint in the process, the ones that are SO TRUE! and reel you right into their lives and their stories. The pieces that have sparks of that – the truth of someone, honesty that might be slightly embarrassing in a different setting – are the ones that really grab me.
Rosalynde: So this might be a softball, but can you tell us your fave non-fiction/CNF writer or tale-spinner?
Fallon: My CNF gateway, Joan Didion.
Judee: I don’t have a clear fav – I met the creative non-fiction form as a writer much more than a reader. But I have been blown away by Janet Malcolm.
Rosalynde: Can you challenge our readership with a CNF form they might use to access some particularly personal material? OR what do you say when someone says their life is boring?
Fallon: I like the Sherry Simpson “Tiny Masters” exercise, which comes off of a quote from Susan Orleans about how she’s most interested in writing about people who are masters of their “tiny domains.” Simpson’s idea comes from using this as a personal essay tool to shift the focus off ourselves, to our places of knowledge and power. To do the exercise, you write a list of ten things you consider yourself a master at. Maybe you’re an insane parallel parker or bread baker or master of apologizing. Pick an item off your list and jump in. In drafts, ask yourself, “What is this really about?” and the deeper level of your essay will become clear. It’s a good way to get at some unexpectedly heavy stuff, but sort of through a side door.
Judee: Our lives are worlds of fascinating weirdness. It’s all about noticing those strange details that add up to being a person, finding a way to access them like with the exercise that Fallon suggested. We did an exercise that I really enjoyed in a Frequency class called “Margins” led by Evelyn Hampton – we wrote a short personal essay, added footnotes to the essay, and deleted the content so that the footnotes themselves became the entire piece. It produced a kind of detailed commentary and frank tone that was fodder for more reflection and writing.
Stranger Stories next event information is as follows:
Submission Deadline for Writers:
Sunday, December 30, 2018
6:30PM, Thursday, January 24, 2019
Artists’ Exchange @ 50 Rolfe Square, Cranston, RI 02910
You can learn more about Stranger Stories by following them on facebook, or checking out their website: www.strangerstoriespvd.com