Ward Rubrecht is a storyteller, journalist, arts organizer, full-time bike commuter, and amateur sailor based in the Whittier neighborhood of Minneapolis. Raised by atheist liberal redneck intellectuals in the backwoods of Wisconsin, he was steeped in the Midwestern folk storytelling revival while tagging along to festivals where his father, August, would perform. He is the 2011, 2012, and 2013 SlamMN! Story Slam champion (happily sharing that title in 2013, due to a tie, with the incomparable Nancy Donoval). He is also the 2014 Twin Cities Moth GrandSlam champion. His slam stories blend the style and techniques of slam poetry with strong narrative and thematic arcs and cover topics such as bird hunting, Orthodox Judaism, and cranky playground equipment.
There are too many cool things in the world and Twin Cities for this to be a comprehensive list, but here's some stuff I'm excited about.
If you're a University of Minnesota person, come to a USlam event! We put on slams and host workshops. You can become an officer if you want, just talk to us! Even if you don't go to the University of Minnesota, you are still welcome to slam, provided there are spots on the list, which there are. We post all our events on our Facebook, so like us to see when the slams are!
U of M people should also check out Voices Merging, our student org that puts on a monthly open mic, where you can see poetry, music, dancing, all kinds of stuff!
Some of the other resident bloggers have mentioned the importance of finding your own authentic voice. I really believe that the poem finds the poet; then, it’s our job to figure out what it needs to be fully realized, and these needs are unique to each poem. Here are some steps that I think can help bring a poem to its truest self.
1. Write for yourself first. Get all the material and all the feelings out on the page, and worry about editing later. It’s okay if it only makes sense to you at first. It’s okay if you can’t show this draft to anyone else. Poetry is vulnerable work, and even more so when you’re writing about painful moments in your life—which we often need to. Acknowledge the courage it takes to start a poem, and you will get more from your writing.
2. Find people you trust to edit your work. These should be people you trust on a personal level and an artistic one. You’ll probably end up showing your work to a lot of strangers, but take note of the people who get your work. Find people who can see where you’re trying to go, and people who will push you to find new and better ways to get there.
When I was younger, I know I wrote poems because there was a framed poem I wrote on my grandfather’s desk, which I also had illustrated. But I mostly wrote little stories back then. Poetry came back to me in high school. I was in a club called Literary Guild, which mostly was a book club/chatting club attended by witty, nice people--but we also put on an annual Poetry Slam.
Or, we thought we did. Looking back, a few of the elements of a poetry slam were missing: no judges, no scores, and no one won. We all just read poems. But we didn’t know a slam was supposed to be a competition, and “Poetry Slam” looked nice on a flyer.
I didn’t need the scores—to me, it was already extremely competitive. It was my chance to prove I could write.
In college I kept writing but didn’t perform it anywhere. I just had secret competitions in my head with anyone I thought was cocky and/or a good writer. Then, in an Intro to Creative Writing class, I met Patrick Maloney, who told me I should try slamming.
Mollie is a senior studying English and Social Justice at the University of Minnesota, born and raised in Rochester, Minnesota. She’s an officer of USlam, the University of Minnesota’s slam poetry organization. She represented USlam in the College Union Poetry Slam invitational in 2013 and 2014. She is Word Sprout’s intern co-ordinator for the Resident Artist blog series. She attended HECUA’s Writing for Social Change program in Fall 2013. She interned at Pangea World Theater in 2013 and 2014 and remains an avid member of Pangea’s community. She is currently the least dateable member of renowned poetry slam team Team Undateable, though that is a wheel which keeps turning.
I have an eclectic mix of things I recommend checking out. The post with my bio has links to some audio and video of my work as well as a book that includes one of my stories so be sure to check those out as well.
Storytelling Class at Metro State:
First and most urgently, check out the course Loren Niemi and I teach together at Metropolitan State University. Our fall class starts in August and enrollment is open right now. We get a mix of absolute beginners to pretty experienced folks. The principles we teach are the same regardless and the application varies depending on what each person is working on. One of my favorite things about the class is how widely mixed in age, background and life experience the students are. Makes for a great bunch of stories and students learn as much from each other's work as they do from their own.
If you are interested, register NOW. Sometimes we fill and you might end up on a waiting list, and occasionally we don't have enough and the class gets cancelled. We want it to go and we want you in it!
I'm approaching the question of tricks of the trade from the perspective of a story coach and teacher. As I said in my previous post, story coaching is as fundamental to my artistic identity as my work as a storyteller. The act of creation is exhilarating and I believe strongly that collaborative process is essential, whether that is bringing my own fledgling stories to my writing group or helping others develop their work to its fullest potential.
Leading workshops, teaching storytelling courses, and coaching pushed me -- and continues to push me-- to identify and articulate what and why something works in the crafting and/or the performance of a story. That process of articulating so I could teach others made me much better at diagnosing what was going in my own storytelling if something was feeling off. I was a good storyteller before I began teaching. Coaching others contributed mightily to my becoming an excellent one. In turn, the heightened awareness of what was working or not in my own stories and performances made me a better teacher and coach. There is not a note I've given or a question I've asked of someone else that I haven't struggled with myself.
As a coach I think of myself as an advocate for each of primary players in the storytelling experience: teller, story and audience. My main goal for each is to help find clarity and give permission.
Nancy Donoval: How I Got Here and Why I Do This or The Plot and Story of My Life As An Artist/Activist
For me the answers to How I Got Here and Why I Do This are inextricably twined together. They are the Plot (HOW) and the Story (WHY) of my life as an artist. It can be easy to mistake Plot and Story as the same thing; I like how my teaching partner at Metro State, Loren Niemi, defines them. Plot is the recounting of an event or a series of events. Story is a set of chosen and shaped images recreating an event or a series of events in which meaning, insight and/or change occur.
Here is the deceptively short answer to Why I Do This. I am a storyteller, story coach, artist/activist because storytelling is who I am to my bones, the frame through which I understand the world, my purpose for existence. It's not what I do; it is who I am.
That's very grand but not exactly specific. We'll come back to Why in a bit after a foray into How. .
Nancy Donoval is a 25+ year veteran storyteller, story coach and artist/activist specializing in finding humor in the hard stuff. In 2010 she won the first ever National Story Slam Championship with a story excerpted from her one-woman show, The Road to Shameless: A Survivor's Journey from Rape to Healing. Nancy’s work has been heard on Minnesota and Chicago Public Radio, and she was a featured performer at the 2004 National Storytelling Festival. Other performance venues include Washington Storytellers Theater, the New York Society for Ethical Culture, and the WisCon Feminist Science Fiction Convention. Her one-woman shows Dancing Rats & Vampire Moms and Monster Movies with My Undead Dad played to sold-out houses at the Minnesota Fringe Festival.
For the last few years Nancy's has focused on using storytelling as an activist against sexual violence. She presents at universities and institutions nationally such as Princeton, UC San Diego, USC, Marquette and the College of William & Mary, as well as the Center for Sex and Culture in San Francisco and the World of Women Poetry Slam 2013. In August she will present at the National Sexual Assault Conference on the topic of "Artful Advocacy: Transforming Dry Data into Powerful Stories for Persuasion and Social Change." She received a 2011 Artist Initiative Grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board to explore the use of digital storytelling for sexual violence awareness and prevention.
Blatant self-promotion time. You ready?
I am a finalist for the Loft Literary Center’s Mentor Series. What is this, you ask? We-he-hell. Every year the Loft chooses twelve emerging writers (four poets, four fiction writers, and four non-fiction writers) to work with six mentors (two for each genre) in small weekend residencies throughout the year. This year’s poetry mentors are off the charts. Patricia Smith and Matt Rasmussen are both National Book Award finalists, professors, and just all around wunderkinds.
Decisions come out around July 20th, so keep your fingers crossed for me! And, whether or not I make it, the series puts on readings throughout the year, so stay tuned for those!
The Loft is just a fantastic organization, and they put on a bunch of different readings, including Equilibrium, a series dedicated to promoting the work of artists of color. Keep up with all of their goings-on here: https://www.loft.org
And if you want to see me and mine performing before we head off to Oakland for the National Poetry Slam, we’ll be having a music slam on July 22, and an All-City Slam showdown on July29, at Kieran’s Irish Pub.
Hope to see you around!
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