Q and A with a Story Guru: Mary Daniels Brown: When Cultural Norms Break Down, We Look for New Stories to Help Guide Us Through Change

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See a photo of Mary, her bio, Part 1 of this Q&A, and Part 2.

Q&A with Mary Daniels Brown, Question 3:

Q: Interest in life stories and memoirs seems to be enormous at the moment. Why do you think that is? What makes people hunger to tell their own stories and learn the stories of others at this moment in time?

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A: We humans have an innate affinity for stories. The earliest stories were told around the common campfire. Petroglyphs are the early expression of a community asserting its identity through its stories. Children who beg for “just one more” bedtime story are not simply jockeying to stay up later. They are truly enthralled by stories that keep them asking, “And then what happened? . . . And then what? . . . And then?”

Storytelling is a communal activity. We think about and explain ourselves in stories that we tell both to ourselves (internally) and to others (externally). Even the stories we tell ourselves are framed within the prescriptions and proscriptions of our culture. Shared stories tell us how other people function within their society and also transmit that society’s values, beliefs, and traditions.

I see the enormous current interest in memoir as a result of the economic, political, and social flux we now live in. When cultural norms begin to break down, we look for new stories to help guide us through change. Every memoir we read by people who have coped with issues such as faith, illness, rejection, infertility, divorce, addiction, financial hardship, or political oppression shows us how to live through these circumstances. The more upheaval we face in our lives, the more we need stories to show us how it is possible to live in our world.