Hi all, and welcome to The Story Project!
The Story Project is (well, it will be) a site run by high school seniors from a small high school in New Jersey as part of their English course and semester-long study of tragedy and the anti-hero. The course is the brainchild of Mrs. K (that’s me!), an English teacher and obsessive reader. I’m hoping that this blog can take you on the same journey they’re going to go on – one from finding their stories, to finding the medium for their stories, and ultimately to telling their stories.
What’s the context?
The course that the students are taking is on tragedy, with an emphasis on the anti-hero (I lure them in with promises of Walter White and I deliver Wide Sargasso Sea – it’s almost a bait and switch, but not quite). Even more specifically, we focus on texts that are re-tellings of existing stories: Wicked by Gregory Maguire is a re-telling of The Wizard of Oz from the perspective of “the Wicked Witch of the West”; Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys is a re-telling of Jane Eyre from the perspective of Bertha (here, Antoinette), the “mad wife” in the attic; and (with any luck we’ll have time to get to it) In Cold Blood by Truman Capote is a non-fiction novel that tells the story of the gruesome murders of the Clutter family, from the vantage point of their murderers. Last year I (like millions of others) was captivated by the runaway hit podcast, Serial, which tells the story of Adnan Syed, a man who is serving time for a 1999 murder that, he claims, he did not commit, and which is also included in our class. Which leads me to my next point…
What’s the inspiration?
All the texts that my students read have one important thing in common: they’re all “second” narratives. They take stories with which we are familiar and turn them around by telling them in the voice of the one who is, originally, painted as the antagonist. Serial in particular got me thinking: Why is it that these people are viewed as antagonists in the first place? Most importantly, in the case of the two non-fiction “texts”, why is it so easy for us to paint particular types of people as villains?
As an answer to this, we study postmodernism, post-colonialism, and Homi Bhabha’s writing on the other, the subaltern, and hybridity. We dive in to what it means to be outside the power structure, and how reclaiming our voices can bring us back in. We listen to the (inspiring, amazing, brilliant) TED talk given by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, “The Danger of a Single Story” and discuss the implications. And finally, this year, we will embark on a journey of telling our own stories…
What’s the project?
The Internet is a vast and incredible space – as I’m fond of telling my students when we’re working on research papers, any person with an Internet connection can publish something and make it look real and true. While that’s problematic in the context of research papers, it’s also incredibly empowering and democratizing. Teenagers are excellent at leveraging the power of digital media, and social media in particular. Just listen to this teenager tell Ira Glass that she posts on Instagram in an effort to stay relevant, and it becomes clear that the potential of social media to reach people, young people especially, is massive. Humans of New York proves daily through the traffic directed to the site, Facebook page, Twitter, and Instagram that enormous numbers of people are watching and listening; what’s more, the fact that a refugee featured by Brandon Stanton was invited to the State of the Union and got to meet President Obama proves that important people are watching and listening. Caroline Calloway, a brilliant young writer, is publishing a book after gaining a massive following on Instagram, where she began to “pen” her memoir through photos and captions.
So the students will be tasked with the following: find an untold story and tell it. They have the innate skills to do this well – they’re natives of the digital landscape, and they have important things to say. They’re going to find their stories, find the best medium through which to share their stories, and then get people to listen.
What can YOU do?
Keep checking back! Their success will be measured by how much traction their stories get, and each week (once we get rolling) a new group of students will take over the blog and share their stories, or links to where you can find them.