Thursday, November 13, 2008

Odd thoughts about reading your work aloud

Friday, November 14, 2008

Talk about an odd series of thoughts. Author Erica Orloff had a blog the other day about reading aloud what you've written.

That led me to think of something which is really weird to think about. In college, I had the privilege of having John G. Neihardt as a teacher. All he did was read his poetry and writings aloud.

I suppose I'm like everyone else who knew the man, even from the student-teacher distance. His works changed my life. But his works are also cause for an interesting discussion. His great work Black Elk Speaks: the life story of an Oglala holy man, has caused some scholars to ask if, when you write down an oral tradition, you close the tradition. In other words, is it a sacrilege to write down sacred stories which have been passed on orally by shamans?

Erica's blog made me think of that. One reason I would guess most writers read their work aloud is that story telling is, at its heart, an oral tradition. Stories were meant to be told by great storytellers around campfires or in family gatherings.

I've been told of the the time our son listened to his grandfather tell stories about those times when his grandfather and his friends did all kinds of crazy things, some of them rather adventurous or dangerous.

I wasn't there to hear that, but my wife tells me that Paul (who was just a grade school boy) laughed until he almost fell out of his seat. And we may have all had such experiences.

Oh how we wish we had saved those stories. But if we had recorded them, would the recording itself have changed how they were told? Or if we had written them down?

You all know I love writing. I'm not anti-writing, but it is an interesting question, isn't it? Does writing things down change their very nature? But if you don't write them down or record them in some other way, and if we no longer live in the kind of village settings in which stories are passed from one storyteller to another, how do you save the stories at all?

I told you these were crazy thoughts. I believe storytelling is the most sacred thing anyone can do. It is the way religions are passed on. Storytelling is at the heart of the Bible, especially the Old Testament and the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). And I think it is that way with many other religions too.

I believe in telling stories and in writing stories. But still, how does the very writing itself change the story? Maybe most of us who are writers understand this. That's why, as we write, we read what we are writing aloud.

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