Yesterday’s Stories

If a nation loses its storytellers, it loses its childhood.” – Peter Handke

This Memorial Day, memories came to the forefront of our national attention. Veterans’ stories were told through videos of war and survivors, through dramatic and interpretive speeches and songs, through lasting stone monuments. All of these forms of storytelling help us to remember our history; for many of us, others’ accounts are the only experience we have of war.

I do not want to detract from the significance of Memorial Day. Yet, as a storyteller, I am awed that sharing these historical stories is the greatest honor we can give to the men and women who gave everything.

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Sharing true, meaningful narratives is the pinnacle of storytelling, and Memorial Day illustrates the moving power of historical nonfiction. Historical fiction (a paragraph of which I’ve quoted below) also can recreate a past that deserves to be remembered.

Joanna was not long in discovering that Eleanor’s memory was no less remarkably preserved than her small white teeth. It was rare to reach such an age without gaping blank spaces in the mouth and mind; most ancients were reduced to gruel and muddled memories in which time blurred all boundaries. But Eleanor had somehow triumphed over the vagaries of age, just as she’d somehow triumphed over the confines and constraints of womanhood. Her past was very much with her, vivid and precisely drawn, a treasure trove of memories ripe for sharing. And share them she chose to do, in those sultry summer nights when sleep would not come and her yesterdays seemed so very close, just beyond reach.” – Sharon Kay Penman, Here Be Dragons

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