Storytelling Celebration Offers Insight into Lives of Central Ohioans

Article by Sally Hritz
Originally published in a different format

"At midlife, I pulled my dusty bike off the garage wall and become a commuter," begins Betsy Hubbard, an Ohio State University employee. Her short video juxtaposes pictures of a scenic bike path with those depicting the hard reality of paved streets and traffic congestion. A jaunty tune underscores it all. Her narration confides the truth behind her lifestyle change: not for lofty reasons such as the environment or exercise, but because “they closed down my parking garage.”

In the Information Age, digital stories can serve as the "15 minutes of fame" for those who want to share a slice of their personal, family, or professional lives or goals. Hubbard’s "Back to the Bike" was among the videos presented during a digital stories showcase, part of Ohio State's local observance of the International Day for Sharing Life Stories on May 16. The separate events held at the Wexner Center formed a pastiche of lively entertainment and learning.

The video showcase kicked off the day's events. A selection of digital stories from 18 members of the university community who had created personalized accounts using photos, images, video, narration, and musical soundtracks, each lasting approximately five minutes, ran one after the other as a single piece in a darkened theater. Each story pulled viewers in anew and many evoked surprising emotion—a laugh, a tear, an "aha!" moment of discovery. People tell their stories in this more permanent form to present a new perspective, seek change, teach, establish significance, and perhaps contribute to their own posterity.

Librarian Karen Diaz, a coordinator of the Digital Storytelling project, crafted her story to explain the storytelling process and encourage others. Another narrative related one student’s sense of finding a new “family” as her way of introducing a group involved with gender identification, sexual orientation, and alliance at OSU. Other stories illustrated a student grappling with a smoking addiction, a touching account of the blindness of a cherished friend, recounted a missionary's heart-stopping experience at gunpoint in Cote d'Ivoire.

The second event featured live storytellers, all skilled performers who knew how to breathe life into their narratives. Lynette Ford began by chanting and shaking a rattle as a way of introducing remembrances of her father, one of the Tuskegee airmen. Kevin Fordi concluded that his account of a seemingly harmless episode on a school bus as a child would have been interpreted much more harshly in today's zero tolerance world. Olive Bratich related a rollicking tale about adjusting to getting her period. Lewis Ulman and Frances Buschur read from items in the Libraries Rare Books collections. Tyler TerMeer asked to start a conversation...about living with HIV. Dionne Custer proclaimed herself "a daughter of Black love." And Sally Crandall wanted to tell how she discovered the power of storytelling.

The third and final event was a panel discussion introduced by President Gordon Gee. David Herman, Department of English, led the conversation with faculty members from across campus about how stories define and enhance their teaching, research, and outreach activities. Panelists included Anne Fields, University Libraries; Adeleke Adeeko and Joe Ponce, Department of English; Susan Fisher, Department of Biology; and Sabra Webber, Department of Near Eastern Languages.

The academic community views storytelling as a valued method of communication; stories can foster new associations and understanding in many areas of study. Since Digital Storytelling came to campus in 2005, a committee comprised of staff from the Digital Union, Technology Enhanced Learning and Research, University Libraries, and Faculty and TA Development has been conducting workshops and public showcases for members of the university community.

The national Center for Digital Storytelling and the Museum of the Person International Network sponsored the day of celebration to promote life stories that have made a difference within neighborhoods, communities, and societies as a whole. People around the world shared their stories in community halls, classrooms, public parks, theaters, and auditoriums, to web sites, e-mail, and virtual environments.

For more information, go to the web site or contact Liv Gjestvang at or 614-247-6457.

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