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The Moth: This is a True Story

The Moth is a thing. To be more precise, The Moth is a “storytelling thing” – or at least, that’s how one of its contributors, Neil Gaiman describes the new storytelling phenomenon.

Founded in 1997 in a cool corner of New York, The Moth is a live storytelling event that now takes place in cities across the US. It was the brainchild of novelist George Dawes Green, who sought to bring the front porch story-telling traditions of his native Georgia to the Big Apple. Anyone willing to share a true life-experience or first-hand story can pitch to take part. There are curated sessions, in which professional writers and performers recall their extraordinary tales, and regular StorySLAM meetings, where members of the audience can put their name forward and be called to tell their story in front of an audience. There is also a national tour of the US, the Moth Mainstage.

Some of the best stories told have now been collected and published by Catherine Burns, The Moth Editor and Artistic Director. This isn’t just an indie novel found on a far-flung shelf of the bookshop. These stories are brutally honest, raw, and quietly captivating. There are big stories, small stories, stories that will make you cry or laugh. A few prove to be that rare type of story that leaves such an impact, you have to put the book down for a second just to let it sink in. And you have to go and make a cup of tea because your head’s still reeling (even hours later).

A testament to The Moth’s popularity is the fact that these stories come from people from all walks of life. Meet Brian Finklestein, host of the LA Moth StorySLAMs who recounts a profoundly moving story from when he was a young man working at a suicide hotline, and answered a call during which he tried to save a young girl who had taken an overdose. I’ll admit, that one moved me to tears. He quit his job the next day. Yet turn to another chapter and you meet professional poker player Annie Duke who (aside from having an incredibly cool name) recounts her split second decisions during a $2 million winner-takes-all televised ESPN tournament in 2004.

The Moth has also attracted some pretty big names. Darryl ‘DMC’ McDaniels, one-third of the group Run-DMC, shares his obsession with the song “Angel” by singer songwriter Sarah McLachlin, and how it eventually led to their collaboration on the song “Just Like Me” (there’s even a music video floating around somewhere in the deepest depths of the internet. It’s an experience, to say the least.). And veteran of two NASA space flights, astronaut Michael Massimino, recounts a lonely spacewalk on a mission to fix the Hubble Space Telescope, whilst on the crew of the shuttle Atlantis in 2009. Like Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity, minus the hours of endless spinning…and George Clooney.

Aside from being a refreshing read, Neil Gaiman points out in his introduction that The Moth carries a much wider message about recounting and remembering our own stories, and the importance of telling each moment no matter how big or small, ‘as honestly as you can’, a trait easily forgotten in the era of selfies and statuses, where stories are often fashioned in fewer than 140 characters. ‘The Moth connects us as humans’ Gaiman writes, ‘And once we hear each other’s stories we realise that the things we see as dividing us are, all too often, illusions, falsehoods: that the walls between us are in truth no thicker than scenery’.

Directors of The Moth have recently brought the hip literary event to London, with plans to also hold informal StorySLAMS in Edinburgh and Dublin. But if you’re not quite ready to reveal your most personal stories and memories in front of an audience just yet, dip your toes into The Moth pool and start with the stories written here. Whether you choose to flick through a few stories on rainy afternoon or find that you just can’t the book down, believe me, you won’t be disappointed.

The Moth: This is a True Story is out now. Details of all Moth events can be found at www.themoth.org

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