Since March of 2020, many people have been undoubtedly looking for an escape from the gravity of the pandemic. As public spaces temporarily open and close, audiences are looking to online storytellers to help relieve some of their stress during this difficult time.
A large part of the content currently being consumed on the internet can be categorized under the umbrella term Visual Storytelling. Visual storytelling is the use of any artistic visual medium to convey a story. Examples include literature, photography, video, graphics, sculpture, performance, and more. One medium of visual storytelling that has arguably been hit the hardest during this time is live-performance. Many venues for concerts, plays, and even film have closed their buildings to prevent covid’s spread, laying off performers and others working in these venues. Similarly, schools and pre-professional theaters have been forced to close their doors and are looking to going online as the solution.
At Hamline University, located in Saint Paul, Minnesota, the Theatre and Dance Department faculty worked with students to process how the department could produce performances during the 2020-21 academic year. With the increasing trend of audiences consuming digital stories in mind, the group landed upon the plan to showcase their art through online video. This endeavor would create learning opportunities for students through their collaboration between disciplines, employing the use of many forms of visual storytelling to convey a message. Actors would gain experience working with dancers, stage technicians with graphic designers, and web designers with video editors. The performances would all explore a universal theme, how do we deal with times of change?
This idea partially stems from a project the university’s Dance Ensemble (a student dance troupe) had worked on and shared online last May. Working with Digital Media Arts students, they created a virtual dance performance entitled “In Transition”, its theme being movement in isolation. The group felt a call to action to create something uplifting during a time in which the months of city-wide quarantines were just being administered across the state of Minnesota and the world at large.
All of this is significant in our current Age of Information. In recent years the internet has experienced large swaths of brands, advertisers, and large media corporations moving much of their content online. We’ve seen an increase in streaming services like Amazon Prime Video whose streaming service launched back in 2006, Netflix in 2007, Hulu in 2008, and Disney Plus in 2019. With people spending more time at home, even more services launched just this year, HBO Max (May 2020), and Peacock TV (July 2020) among others. Several feature films have found their releases pushed straight to these streaming outlets, since most movie theaters have been closed for months.
Following the trend of increased media consumption online, I predict that more forms of visual storytelling will be shared throughout the internet in the years to come. As a writer and performer myself, I think this shift would be a promising development for both art forms. Through the convergence of written work and the internet, authors can have their work reach more people with less effort since they will no longer be limited to distributing paper copies. Performing will be more streamlined as well. For performers, international live-streams will draw in larger audiences. Live chats will allow audience members to engage with one another and the performers in real time, creating a tight-knit community around these works of art.
The internet offers the beneficial ability to share artwork across multiple platforms, something that their non-internet counterparts lack for the most part. Already we’ve seen story-based and performance content such as ebooks, audiobooks, podcasts, and YouTube personalities rise in prominence, as well as live-streaming news broadcasts, sports, and virtual concerts. These story outlets are popular, gaining a large following due to their ability to meet their audiences where they are. The writer’s challenge of meeting the audience where they are and bringing literature to them from the convenience of their phone or computer will inspire more people to get lost in the beauty of the written word, and our stories will have more power to impact the future and enact change wherever it may be needed.
This realization has positively changed the process of how I personally write my own creative works. Because I know that putting my work on the internet (either in blogs, online journals, social media, or personal websites) will reach a larger and more diverse audience, knowing this I am able to write more unifying themes and use my voice to make a positive difference in the world. I hope that this shift to online will empower writers and all artists to create for and inspire a broader audience. I’ve learned from this time that there might always be new ways for our voices to be heard as writers, and through adversity we are given even more reason to express ourselves through our artistic outlets in whatever forms they may manifest. I’ve learned that art has no limits, we as artists can make our art into anything we can imagine, and the internet is just another medium through which we can get our voices out there.
Increasing release of virtual storytelling may be a trend that continues past these trying times, allowing for faster and more convenient consumption of these art forms. The communities that can form around artwork that is released online can celebrate artists and inspire them to create more profound work that does a service to the artists themselves and the consumers who take in their work. It seems the intent of distance between the frame of the proscenium stage and the audience was centuries ahead of its time. Who could’ve known that they would predict the practiced distance between screen and viewer, and that through this distance we would all be so connected?
Meet the blogger:
KYRIN STURDIVANT is a Creative Writing Major and English minor in his final year of undergrad at Hamline University. Kyrin is a writer of poetry, fiction, and screenplays and enjoys practicing dance in his free time.
Listen to Interview:
(note: audio starts at :15)
On Thursday October 1, 2020, I had a conversation with Lily Crooks, an established member of the Twin Cities literary community and graduate of the MFA program in Creative Writing at Hamline University. The plan was to speak over zoom, allowing us to see each other outside of the chain of emails that had been our introduction and only form of communication thus far. After 3 crashes on zoom, we elected to speak over the phone. Lily quickly moved to another room with better service as I googled “best phone call recording apps.” We spoke for around an hour. The free-flowing, unedited audio file of that conversation can be found at the bottom of this post. The following excerpts are gemstones and light bulbs, an illuminating understanding into Lily Crooks.
The first piece of Lily’s writing that I read was “Free Fallin’” published in Memoir Mixtapes, August 2020. In it, she writes about her annual family road trip they take to the Black Hills in South Dakota each summer and falling in love with Tom Petty.
Lily grew up in a family where “for many many years, we were not the kind of family where each of us had a walkman”. She was expected to entertain herself on road trips, and spent a lot of time with her own internal dialogue, the place where most of her writing begins to this day.
In high school, Lily was a theatre kid. Finding solace in allowing the “internal loud showy Lily” to come out while playing characters. A lover of not only theatre, but the spoken word, Lily initially thought she was going to become a playwright when she first began looking seriously at writing. “I love reading aloud. It doesn’t have to be screenplays. I love reading books aloud with friends, or on road trips and stuff like that. I wish we did more of that in my family, but we’ve just kind of started that because I insisted. But I just really appreciate the spoken style of storytelling.”
And so, she wonders how she might be able to inject whatever quality it is about her, or perhaps even the spoken voice, into her written works. “It’s very different writing with the intention to be spoken aloud and/or performed vs writing to be read. Inflection changes the whole meaning of a sentence, and how do you do that on the page if you can’t guarantee that this person isn’t going to hear you say it out loud”?
At this point, I check in to see if Lily has a hard-out I need to be working with (we’re about 40 minutes into our conversation) She tells me I’ve got about 15 minutes.
She purchased it on the last day of the Minnesota State Fair, inspired by an interview with Dan Savage where he had a bison head on his wall, from a vendor in the midst of packing up. She gave the vendor $200 cash (the head was listed for $400) enticing him with it being one less thing he had to transport. Then she remembered she needed to take it home on the bus. The deer’s name is Chauncy.
We discussed the concept and importance of having “shrines” in your home. Deborah Keenan was the first person who really brought this idea to her, naming that very corner her shrine. “I never considered it (the space pictured in the photo above) as that kind of space, but it serves exactly the same purpose as a small altar to loved ones who’ve passed on or mementos that are more than just knick knacks. Especially when winter comes, I feel like Minnesotans need a lot of little quiet areas in their home to look at and feel joy.”
Coming to the end of our time I asked her what she was working on. Not just in terms of art or writing, but also spiritually, personally, or in terms of a goal she has set for herself.
Her father has recently passed away, an experience that she’s found speaking about openly has helped in her processing of it. They weren’t particularly close, and as the oldest of his three children, she’s been put in charge of wrapping up his affairs. A task made even more challenging due to COVID-19, making the process longer and unable to get together with her family as much as she’d like. Oddly enough, she says the experience has brought her closer with her younger brother.
Creatively, she’s been revisiting a piece she started a long time ago about her family history. She is also working to be more engaged in community work and mutual aid, and is looking forward to keeping up her momentum in that this winter.
And finally, I asked if she had any magic parting words.
“I don’t think I do. Um, if it’s about writing I hate to tell you that there isn’t magic and a lot of it is work. You just have to do it. Sorry. You have to just sit down and do it. And the best advice I ever got was ‘you can’t revise words you haven’t written’ so you just gotta do it. Your first draft is supposed to be bad. Sorry. That’s a long answer.
See, I’m bad at remedy.
Write it up y’all, you gotta do it.”
No facet of the public consciousness is invincible. Even the most spotless legacy can be tarnished by the unearthing of otherwise overlooked or long-forgotten iniquities. We see this in the growing re-examination of long-dead historical figures, Christopher Columbus for example. Yeah, the dude actually wasn’t so great. Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, may have been acquitted of child molestation charges, but even the king isn’t above the public’s court of law. Justin Trudeau? Although the prime minister’s Liberal government survived Canada’s recent federal elections after several blackface incidents from his past were brought to light, his party is down 20 seats in Parliament and in fact lost the popular vote by more than a percentage point to Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives.
Yes, “cancel culture” doesn’t always lead to consequences. Christopher Columbus is too dead to defend himself, as is Michael Jackson, but neither faced true justice for their wrongs within their lifetimes. The blackface scandals may have damaged Trudeau’s reputation, but he’s not out of a job, and neither are many other public figures smacked with serious allegations, whether for racism or sexual assault.
Surprisingly, the young-adult literature community is better at holding their own accountable than many branches of the U.S. government. Prominent figures like Jay Asher and Sherman Alexie have faced some social ramifications after being accused of sexual harassment, but those feeling the most heat were condemned not for what they were believed to have done, but for what they were believed to have left undone. Not for a crime, but for their own shortcomings, namely, for failing to live up to the YA community’s general consensus on inclusivity, representation and cultural sensitivity.
If you browse over the Twitter accounts of today’s notable YA authors, you will find that they are overwhelmingly liberal, and more likely to have supported Hillary Clinton during the 2016 primary than Bernie Sanders, even though they are also likely to support keystones of Sanders’ policy platform, such as universal healthcare and student loan forgiveness. This preference is no coincidence. Sanders has frequently been critiqued by fellow left-liberals for being dismissive of “identity politics” and for tone-deafness to the issues faced by voters of color.
The YA community, meanwhile, is deeply invested in diversity issues as its target market becomes minority-majority. Less than half of all children born in the US today are white, and members of Generation Z are far likelier than their predecessors to identify as LGBT. These issues have taken the front seat as demographics shift, from the nonprofit We Need Diverse Books which seeks to amplify marginalized perspectives in children’s and young-adult literature, to the #OwnVoices movement, which asserts that marginalized protagonists should be written by authors from the culture they represent. This Tweet by YA author Kosoko Jackson takes it a step even further:
“Stories about the civil rights movement should be written by black people. Stories of suffrage should be written by women. Ergo, stories about boys during horrific and life changing times, like the AIDS EPIDEMIC, should be written by gay men. Why is this so hard to get?”
But his words boomeranged back at him. Jackson failed to live up to his own standards, as he is one such YA author who came under the hot-seat for writing outside of his lane. His debut novel, A Place for Wolves, starred a main character who, like him, is a gay black male. Jackson, however, has no personal connection to the Kosovo War, the conflict against which Wolves is set, and he wrote an Albanian Muslim villain, despite Albanian Muslims having borne the brunt of ethnic cleansing by the Serbian and Yugoslav governments during the war. This spelled doomsday for his book in the hands of critics on Goodreads, the social cataloging network that allows users to review books that aren’t even released yet.
“Genocide isn’t a romantic backdrop for your story,” reviewer ‘Nina’ wrote on Feb. 26, 2019, a month before Wolves’ scheduled publication day. “i don’t need a book about soft gay boys cuddling during a genocide that neither of them are part of or really affected by, an authors note that says there is two sides to every story of ethnic cleansing, and a muslim villain who comes from the group being ethnically cleansed,” said ‘Maxwell’ that same day.
Wolves’ community rating on Goodreads, which had previously been more than four stars out of five, plummeted to less than three as more caustic reviews piled up. You have to wonder how many of these critics had actually read the book and how many were just bandwagoning along with their friends. Even a fellow YA author who had previously praised Wolves took back his endorsement after reading the criticisms.
As a result, Jackson asked publisher Sourcebooks to cancel Wolves’ impending release, and 55,000 ready-to-go copies of the novel had to be pulped. Put into context, that’s a larger first printing than runaway bestsellers The Hunger Games and The Lovely Bones, which both saw 50,000 initial copies.
This wasn’t the first time such a controversy unfolded, nor was it the last. In January 2019, Amelie Wen Zhao postponed the release of her Anastasia-inspired fantasy Blood Heir due to accusations of insensitive parallels within the book to antebellum chattel slavery, although the book’s universe features an ethnically diverse empire in which magical powers, not race, are the basis for oppression. A revised version was released in November.
In the spring of 2019, memoirist Katie Heaney liked a Tweet comparing bisexual people in heterosexual marriages to girls who studied abroad in college and won’t shut up about it. Heaney was quick to regret this, as her Goodreads reviews went on to suffer for it— reviews of a book that, at the time, was more than a year from publication: April 2020’s YA romance Girl, Crushed. None of these ratings and reviews have to do with the actual content of the book; they are all condemnations of an online action which the author later apologized for. To Goodreads’ credit, many of these reviews were removed for being irrelevant, but some users just re-posted them, minimally repackaged, and said as much.
Don’t these people have better things to do with their lives? Think back to the scandals mentioned at the beginning of this post, and consider how silly it seems to go after an author’s Twitter history rather than hold accountable those with actual power, whether in their own lives or in the larger world, for their wrongdoings. Why don’t they take up armchair detective work, and go cancel some serial killers? The Delphi murderer still hasn’t been caught, even though one of his victims recorded audio and video footage of him within her last moments. Anyone know this guy?
But I digress. Based on the flack Jackson and Heaney got from their seemingly innocuous online activities, it might do some serious good to think before you post. Maybe our parents were on to something, after all.
Meet the blogger:
KELLY HOLM is a member of Hamline University’s class of 2021. She is an award-winning student journalist for The Oracle and an English and creative writing double major. Besides Runestone, she’s interned with Sentinel Publications, Elicit Magazine and GenZ Publishing. She hopes to find work as a professional writer.
Like many, I need some background noise while I’m writing. It could be the hum of a coffee shop or a tv on in another room, as long as it’s something not too distracting, I’m happy. But my favorite thing to write to is classical music. I’ve been studying classical flute for over a decade, and as of now I’m one senior project away from a Music degree. I’ve curated 10 classical playlists from Spotify perfect for any kind of writing:
- Sci-Fi- Space-themed Classical Music: From movie soundtracks, contemporary creations, and, of course, Gustav Holst’s orchestral suite “The Planets,” this playlist should inspire any sci-fi writer to create something out of this world.
- Fantasy- Romantic Era 50: Spotify Picks: This is the era that produced well known composers like Wagner and Rimsky-Korsakov. Characterized by emotion and drama, the Romantic Era is a perfect soundtrack to epic battles, long journeys, and quieter moments too.
- Romance- Folk-inspired Classical Music The simple and sweet melodies of folk music are sure to inspire some love. Featuring composers like Copland and Grieg, this lively playlist will make you want to dance in a prairie with your one true love.
- Experimental- Avant Garde 50:Spotify Picks: If you’re writing something a little out of the box, look to these 20th century compositions for inspiration. Composers include João Pedro Oliveira and Rebecca Saunders.
- Comedy- Baroque 50: Spotify Picks: The period that brought us Bach, Vivaldi, and Handel often features the plucky harpsichord, and fun music to smile to.
- Poetry- Lute Music for Alchemists: Lute music from some of the best European Renaissance and Baroque composers (like J.S. Bach and Giocomo Gorzanis) makes for a calm and focused atmosphere, even when your poetry isn’t.
- When you’re writing something sad: Classical Noir Melancholic in minor keys, this collection of dark music from composers like W.A. Mozart fuels heartache.
- When you’re writing about nature- Birdsong in Classical Music: From Baroque to contemporary, with composers from all over the world, this playlist transports you to the wilderness. The avian inspired composers include Camille Saint Saens and Somei Satoh.
- When you’re looking for some drama- Epic Classical Are your characters are getting in huge fight? Is someone dangling from a mountain or getting chased by the police? Featuring masters of the dramatic, like Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, and Dvorak, this playlist will have you on the edge of your seat.
- Writing when restless- Spotify Orchestra: Cello: Everyone knows the stress of the impending deadline, and the stress gets even worse when you can’t concentrate. From composers like Eric Whitacre and Jaques Offenbach, the dulcet tones of the cello are perfect for centering your mind, and getting your work done.
There’s nothing more inspiring to me than the way instrumental music is able to tell a story or convey a feeling without using any words. I hope these talented musicians and composers can help you be a better writer.
Meet the blogger:
ANN MARIE LEIMBACH sudied music and creative writing at Hamline University. Besides writing, their passions include playing flute and complaining about playing the flute.
Reviewed by K McCLENDON
If you are profoundly lucky, grief is something you know in name only. It has not yet made a home in the heart where someone you used to love once fit. Most of us carry on through the world ignoring death, attempting to make as little eye contact as possible. We assume tomorrow will come because if we didn’t, fear would make life impossible. But what happens when death becomes a force you can no longer ignore? What is there to do in life when you have no other option but to grieve?
In his debut book The Only Worlds We Know, published by Button Poetry Publishing Fall 2019, Michael Lee teases out these impossible ideas of death. He navigates the loss of a beloved friend to knife violence and the thin line between life and death as a recovering drug addict.
There are many ways Lee attempts to describe death and its relationship to the body. A line from the poem “The Study Of The Dead And Puzzles” reads, “the knife does not kill the body it simply informs it / that death is possible; a single light flooding the room, / the one corner of the house we never knew / existed until all other rooms had darkened.” Another line from the poem “study of knives and music” says, “as if death is a kind of realization the body has.” Lee has an incredible way of giving death a soft side, a mystery that is not so terrifying. At the same time, he acknowledges that it is a sudden and incomprehensible thing the moment it happens. This balance is striking, as Lee is able to reduce death to a mere moment, the sun setting on a life.
Lee writes about the act of grieving. In “A group of dead friends is called a memory,” he places the reader now at a dinner table, imagining dining with ghosts. They sit in the loneliness that comes with losing loved ones to the unexpected horrors of life. There are enough plates for the living and but not for the ghosts to feast. Michael, wonderfully alive, tells stories of times when these ghosts were not yet undone. He attempts to reconcile his own living, by recounting joy.
When speaking of his life as a recovering addict, he emphasizes a different way of grappling with death. In the poem “Out There,” he writes about what it means for him to go to Alcoholics Anonymous and what it means when people stop coming to the meetings. “Each week a new man enters / the room, each week another man doesn’t / come back. What magic, to walk through / a door and then appear again as ink / in the Sunday paper. He went back out,/ the sentence a sentence… /and you wonder / where all these men have gone but you don’t / you know./ You know there is no long winter out there / where we dig through dead pines / in search of the bottom.”
In this poem, Lee interrogates death as both addict and a witness to addiction’s power. It is a fact that if the addict drinks, smokes, or otherwise gives into the addiction, death is not only possible, but it is unavoidable. Lee centers himself in the middle of it, an addict who has seen his future over and over again in the ones who have gone out. Lee comes to terms with sobriety only after death is accepted as imminent. On the page this poem has power that is unprecedented, Lee’s performance of it is second to none, watch it here.
Lee speaks of death with a control that makes it seem like a manageable moment we all must inherit. He does not let us forget there is beauty and grace in this too. He masters grief in a way that allows space to be held for healing. This debut book of poems exhibits mastery of the abstract, working to uncover the darkness and confusion of the only worlds we know.
Meet the blogger:
K McCLENDON is a junior at Hamline University where they study creative writing. K competes nationally as a spoken word artist. They have been an avid Button Poetry fan for many years and are now an intern at the company.