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Epiphanies, Ira Glass, and Why I Tell Stories

Since 1995, Ira Glass, one of the greatest storytellers of our time, has been the host of the radio show “This American Life,” a weekly hour-long show that is primarily journalistic non-fiction but also features essays, short fiction and occasionally memoirs.

I had the pleasure of seeing Ira live this past weekend at Jones Hall here in Houston. My experience was less like sitting in a large hall and more like sitting in a living room listening to a fascinating storyteller spin a variety of yarns. Ira spoke about how the stories for his show are picked and how they are fact checked. He mentioned how sometimes, just hours before a show was ready to record, the show would get canned because a fact would come back as incorrect. He shared how to find the best stories and what elements go into the making of a great radio story. But what he shared that especially resonated with me was his opinion of what qualities are found in the better storytellers.

The best storyteller is a “cross-over,” Ira explained, the person who doesn’t actually belong to a group but is familiar and comfortable with and accepted by the group. This person understands the psychology behind the group. For example, the white kid that hangs out with the black kids, or, as in one of Ira’s stories, the Shiite man who hangs around with a group of Sunni friends and who everyone thinks is Sunni. I had an ‘ah ha’ moment when I recognized that I have always been that person. I am the grand-child of immigrants, and I grew up in both New York City and Los Angeles, large melting pots of cultures from around the world.

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