The Moth, a New York City-based storytelling organization, is a rare creature indeed. Founded in 1997 by poet and novelist George Dawes Green, The Moth was originally Green’s attempt to re-create summer nights in his native Georgia, when friends would gather on the porch and tell each other stories—a southern tradition Green missed in the north, symbolized by the moths he remembered as part of the scene. From its beginnings in Green’s New York living room, the organization has grown into a multi-media phenomenon, with live storytellers on stage in New York and Los Angeles, and on tour around the world, a podcast, and The Moth Radio Hour, airing on over 200 stations nationwide.
So who tells stories at The Moth? An amazing range of people, from actors, authors, and musicians, to everyday people with something to say and the courage to say it in front of a crowd. In fact, if you feel like you belong in that last category, The Moth invites you to pitch them two minutes of your story and submit it for a chance to tell it live. Oh, one other thing: The Moth stipulates that all stories must be true stories and must be your stories, not someone else’s. How do they know? I suppose they’ve just got finely-tuned BS detectors after 15 years in the storytelling business.
To give you an idea of what a Moth story is like (I almost wrote “a typical Moth story,” but there is no such thing) have a look at the video above, with Neil Gaiman telling a drily humorous story from his teenage years. Gaiman’s presentation is subdued, in his understated English way, and replete with delightful digressions and asides. An example of a more impassioned, urgent Moth tale comes from comedian Anthony Griffith, who tells the story of his rise to comic fame with his Tonight Show appearances while he was also nursing his young daughter who had cancer.
As I said, there is no “typical Moth story,” and that’s the appeal. Everyone who takes the stage has something to say that no one else could, because it’s theirs alone. Both of the videos above are available on The Moth’s Youtube channel, which features dozens more live storytellers (I’d recommend Dan Savage’s story among so many others).
Oh, but wait, there’s more! (Can you tell I’m excited about this?). The Moth is now streaming audio of recent storytelling events on its website, with some available for free download. Some here are not-to-be-missed. For instance, you should drop whatever you’re doing (reading this sentence, I assume) and listen to Damien Echols’ harrowing story of his 18 years on death row as one of the wrongly-convicted, and recently freed, “West Memphis Three.” Still here? Fine. Then you must immediately go away and listen to playwright A.E. Hotchner tell his story about watching a bullfight with his friend Ernest Hemingway. If neither of these appeals, you’re probably hopeless, but hey, what can it hurt to scroll through the extensive list of stories streaming on The Moth website and find a few that speak to you? Invariably, this will happen: when you start listening to Moth storytellers, you’ll find it very hard to stop. It’s a pretty great non-profit racket they’ve got going: banking on the oldest and most durable form of entertainment and human connection.
Josh Jones is a doctoral candidate in English at Fordham University and a co-founder and former managing editor of Guernica / A Magazine of Arts and Politics.