James Stuart: Why Stories Matter

Colorado Writer, James Stuart, shares with the Almagre community the importance of stories…

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The greatest storyteller I ever knew probably hasn’t written anything longer than a personal check since high school. He was a farrier from Wyoming, and even at fifteen years old, I was a couple inches taller than him. But that didn’t give me any sense of scale in his presence. He could begin telling a story at lunch, tell three more over the course of an afternoon, and wrap them all up in an intricate bow just in time for dinner. He moved effortlessly between memory, folktale, pop culture, and dirty jokes, taking with him what he liked as he went and leaving the rest on the vine. Sometimes, you found yourself a character in his stories – a small part in a grand narrative you had already lived but looked forward to hearing told anyway. More times than not, that made you a punchline. But such was his skill, you enjoyed it nonetheless.

Through my work, I have been fortunate to know a number of great writers. Some among us are just naturally gifted at turning letters and punctuation into something beautiful. I’ve swapped notes with journalists, essayists, authors, poets, and screen writers. But in spite of their skill and success, none have ever matched the raw talent of that horseshoer I met when I was young. The greatest writers among us are also the best storytellers; the reverse doesn’t exactly hold true. That is the magic of storytelling in my eyes.

Storytelling may well be our most ancient tradition, crawling into existence from the primordial soup of early communication around the same time humans began to observe the world beyond food, water, and shelter. From its earliest days, it has not been confined by any medium.  It was paint on cave walls. It was music from carved bones and strung sinew. It was mythology, parable, and fable. On cold nights, it was traded around fires, providing an additional layer of protection from a world that remained largely mysterious. It was filled with heroes, monsters, tricksters, and sirens – many of whom live on with different names today. Animals often took on human qualities to teach or to amuse. Eventually, it would be written down, printed, recorded, filmed, digitized, and monetized. But the key ingredients and basic structure have not changed over the millennia, allowing storytelling to transcend cultures, wars, famine, plague, technology, and every other obstacle in its way. It connects us with our past, while preparing new generations for the future.

Storytelling will remain relevant because it is a direct response to basic needs. The need to be understood. The need to be entertained. The need to preserve knowledge. The need to be remembered. These necessities are not only timeless, they are fundamentally human.

As such, there will always be another story to tell.

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James Suart received his Bachelors Degree in English from Colorado State University in 2011. He has dedicated himself to writing fiction that is fresh, thought provoking, and occasionally profane. His influences are extremely diverse, running the gamut from Ernest Hemingway and Ray Bradbury to Zadie Smith and Jhumpa Lahari. He is also the founder of the webpage THE FORGE, a site dedicated to very brief short stories.

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