I had the pleasure of meeting Angie Chatman in Taos, New Mexico, the summer of 2018 when we were both fellows of the Kimbilio Fellowship program for fiction writers of the African Diaspora. Fellows come from all over the country and some from outside of the U.S. Angie and I discovered that we both lived in the Boston area and have kept in touch ever since. Angie is frequent contributor to Business Insider, and her articles, essays, and short fiction have been anthologized in prominent print and online journals. She is also an extraordinary storyteller and has performed stories for The MOTH, StoryCollider, MassMouth, Tell-All Boston, and the television series Stories from the Stage (WGBH). I’ve watched her tell stories and have been riveted.
LB: Have you always wanted to be a storyteller? When did this interest begin?
AC: No, I didn’t plan on telling stories on stage in front of an audience. That’s scary, nerve wracking and embarrassing. I’m a writer; I tell stories on paper. However, my friend, Robin, saw an advertisement to learn how to tell and pitch stories. I was beginning my career as a freelance writer and I knew I could use some additional training on pitching. We went to the class. Robin and I both pitched and were asked to tell for the Holiday episode of WGBH’s Stories from the Stage. The energy in the room was palpable and such a rush. I can see why actors, comedians, and performers love being on stage.
LB: How has the fever pitch of the Black Lives Matter movement this year affected avenues for you to do storytelling?
AC: Because of BLM, storytelling outlets want to get with the program and ride the publicity wave. Having been in the news business you understand how that works. So instead of having one or two people of color on the stage, there are now shows where all of the tellers identify as black.
LB: How has BLM movement this year opened up additional opportunities for you to tell stories about race, injustice, and other socially relevant topics.
AC: In addition to being able to be on the program, nearly all of the themes are centered on social injustice towards black and brown folks. Storytelling is an industry albeit a small one; the producers are responding to market pressure. I’m hoping that this will change this industry in some way. Previously, it had been my experience that producers – who are typically white – shied away from these topics. I don’t really blame them, most of the audiences are white and white people thought racism was over once we elected a black President.
LB: What is your favorite story to tell and why?
AC: That’s like asking what’s my favorite book. I love all my stories – and all my books. After all, my stories are about my experiences. Even the painful ones are useful to revisit now and then to remind myself of lessons learned.
LB: Do storytelling and your writing complement each other? If so, how so?
AC: Oh heck yeah. Telling and writing are two sides of the story coin. Both have magical powers, which engage the imagination of an audience. Both set a scene, develop characters, introduce an inciting incident, and land the ending. The only difference is a storyteller shows what happens by using vocal tone and modulation, body movement and gestures. All a writer has are marks on paper.
LB: Why is storytelling important?
AC: At their core stories are about love, heartache, growing up, risk, and failure, everything and anything about the human experience. Every story connects us because stories, especially the good ones, remind us of our shared humanity. That is why storytelling is so important and is a timeless artform.
LB: For someone who wants to become a storyteller, where do they begin?
AC: Since I got into storytelling after taking a class, I’m biased. That’s what I recommend. However, there are story slams all over Boston, the greater New England area, and around the country where you throw your name in a hat and hope you get picked. You can start there as well.
Angie Chatman is a writer, editor, and storyteller. She lives in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston with her husband, children, and rescue dog, Lizzie. Angie earned her MFA in creative writing from Queens University in Charlotte and an MBA from MIT. She teaches at the Gotham Writers Workshop in New York City. Follow her on twitter and find out more about her on her website.