Kenneth O. St. Louis, Ph.D., West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV, is a mostly-recovered stutterer; a speech-language clinician, professor, and researcher in the area of fluency disorders. He has worked in the area of stuttering for 30 years. Some of his recent contributions have been in the areas of international public opinion of stuttering, personal history or stories of those who stutter, and basic research in cluttering. St. Louis has just finished a new book featuring stories from people who stutter. He holds Specialty Certification through ASHA SID-4.
Rae Jean V. Sielen, Populore Publishing Company, Morgantown, WV, holds degrees in linguistics and speech and hearing sciences. She is an owner/manager of Populore Publishing Company whose mission is the preservation of the stories of ordinary people. In addition to publishing books, she has conducted numerous workshops on helping people tell and preserve their stories and is and active member of the Association of Personal Historians. Sielen assists in coordinating an NSA Chapter.
In recent years there has been an increasing interest in ordinary people's stories whether a short anecdote, a funny memory, or a full-blown life story. These days bookstores display many memoirs and autobiographies. Also prominently displayed are numerous and creatively titled Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies of stories written by "real people." Other examples of this growing trend abound. One needs look no further than a magazine stand, organization newsletters, community heritage initiative, school projects, the web, and even the CBS evening news. On Steve Hartman's "Everybody Has a Story" individuals are selected from the throw of a dart at a US map. This paper will explore some of the reasons storytelling is becoming so popular and some of benefits of "storytelling" for people who stutter. It will also highlight several ways "storytelling" by people who stutter is already being done and provide an opportunity for readers to submit a "mini-story" of 3-5 sentences.
First, it seems that many people are realizing that history is composed of everyone's experience. Such stories can fill in important gaps missing from "textbook history" as well as provide important material for future historians and teachers. It is not just the experiences and accomplishments of the rich, famous, and weird -- those people traditionally sought out by journalists, biographers, and historians. Many are asking, "Why shouldn't my experience be as important as theirs? Even if I'm not a big name in sports, entertainment, business, or politics, I want to be included." In many of the textbooks on stuttering, the experience of individuals who stutter (parts of their personal stories) is highlighted. Instructors invite people who stutter into their classroom to share their stories. Collections of personal stories by people who stutter are assigned reading.
Admittedly, "ordinary people" have not been totally absent from history. Oral history projects, for example, have involved teams of interviewers conducting on-site sessions with people from all walks of life. However, these stories, by and large, were selected for their interest and preservation by someone other than the people doing the telling. And, once the stories were gathered, they were often edited according to the agenda of the story project.
Thankfully, story telling and sharing is becoming less and less an exclusive activity and one where individual initiative has a place and where "in our own voices" (that is, not edited or filtered) is valued.
Second, as societies have become more and more mobile, people's sense of tradition and belonging has weakened. Many families are not geographically close enough to carry on time-honored family traditions of gathering, storytelling, celebrating, and so on. Many have started to realize they must personally take the responsibility to tell and preserve their family or cultural stories and traditions or they will become lost to future generations. Trend watchers are taking note of the growing and related field of "personal history." This loosely defined term refers to the practice of individuals recording and preserving their own individual or family history (their "stories") using print, video, audio, and multimedia.
Third, there is an unsettled feeling among many people that science and technology have not solved the problems of the world, and in many ways have contributed to them. Closer to home, people may feel inundated by day-to-day encounters with technology that are impersonal or cumbersome. This has led to searches in other realms for a sense of meaning and purpose in life. It could be argued that more and more people are searching for truth in the most obvious place, their own lives and connections, and are drawn to build networks and share them with others. The simple act of telling another about our life and experiences and allowing that person to do the same can help us feel less unsettled and more grounded. Storytelling is a powerful way to connect to others, form relationships and for adults to mentor children.
Fourth, there is perhaps a new realization that there is tremendous power and value in telling and sharing our stories. Hospice workers have seen terminally ill patients grow in peace and understanding through writing or speaking about their lives. Veterans, Holocaust survivors, those suffering from AIDS, a housewife at a crossroads in her life, an at-risk teenÉ the list is endless of those who benefit from story activities. There are even individuals who specialize in therapeutic storytelling -- the National Storytelling Alliance now has a special interest group, the Healing Stories Alliance. Its members, researchers, and others are seemingly anxious to learn more about this area and a new related area known as "narrative psychology." The essence of this is really very simple: chances are good that when a person writes or speaks his or her story, it will be beneficial. In a new book entitled "Living With Stuttering: Stories, Basics, Resources, and Hope" St. Louis (2001) recommends that people who stutter "take stock" of their stuttering periodically by telling their story. In this way, they can discover unrecognized obstacles as well as triumphs in their unique life journeys with this mysterious condition. One's story can be written down or told orally to a friend or family member, a clinician, or even to oneself. Others have recommended that techniques from the relatively new area of "narrative psychology" or "narrative therapy" can allow one to change his or her story to more closely fit what he or she would like it to be. For example, in a forthcoming article in the Journal of Fluency Disorders, DiLollo, Neimeyer, and Manning (In press) suggest that narrative therapy techniques can assist stutterers to maintain their gains from speech therapy.
Although it is likely that the healing function is the main reason individuals have chosen to tell and share their stories of stuttering, some people who tell their story to heal themselves discover that their stories can help heal others. Stories can be healing for the one hurting, but also for those hearing the stories. Through stories others see that it is possible to overcome problems and get ideas how to handle various situations.
The stories of ordinary people are powerful in their ability to inspire and motivate others. That they are from an "ordinary person" sometimes can even give them more weight. When we hear the story of another who is facing difficulties similar to our own we know we are not alone. And, in the other's story we may find seeds of hope, specific tips for coping, acceptance, and more. Or, we may read a story and change an attitude or be driven to action -- all or any of which might be healing. In the stuttering community, personal stories are shaping what people know about stuttering and how people will now react to other people who stutter they meet in the future.
Fifth, it could be argued that one reason behind the explosion of story telling and sharing is that it is easier to tell your story now than it ever has been. There are numerous ways people who stutter are already sharing their stories. All storytelling is valuable, whether is reaches thousands or only one. The remainder of this paper highlights some of the ways that people who stutter are already sharing their story and will encourage others to find ways (and even provide an opportunity) to share their stories as well.
Sharing personal stories in the popular media
People who stutter have shared their personal stories in various ways in the popular media: movies, television, and radio. We have numerous examples of famous people with personal experience with stuttering who have taken advantage of opportunities to educate others about stuttering. Annie Glenn, Ron Harper, and James Earl Jones have all been interviewed on television about their stuttering. Bob Love has published an autobiography with Mel Watkins, (The Bob Love Story: If It's Gonna Be, It's Up to Me, 2000, Chicago, IL: Contemporary Books) and has signed the movie rights for the story about his life with stuttering, and as a professional basketball player.
"Regular folks" have also taken opportunities to use the popular media to share their personal stories and educate others about stuttering. National Stuttering Association members have appeared on the television show, "MariLu." Teenager Danny Kremer has produced a video, "Danny and the Scatman." Jeff Shames is working on a documentary he calls "Stutter Step." A Public Broadcasting System pilot segment, "Right Here, Right Now" featured the personal story of "Jonelle." Erik Lamens, a film producer in Belgium has produced a short and touching autobiographical video entitled "To Speak."
Sharing personal stories in books
Sharing personal stories in magazines and newspapers
Unfortunately many of the personal stories in magazines and newspapers are not available on the Internet. Some examples that are available, include:
Sharing personal stories by making public speeches
Sharing stories on the Internet
The web is ideal for interactive story sharing activities. While some talk of days gone by when people really took personal correspondence seriously and kept in touch, others have embraced new technologies and are in touch with family and friends like never before. Personal and family websites and email with photo attachments, to name just a few possibilities, are powerful tools for story sharing and telling. People who stutter are sharing personal stories on mailing lists and also on the web. Several websites relate personal stories of people who stutter.
A few examples of personal websites are:
We invite people who stutter to share a short personal story by responding in a few sentences to specific topics. The instructions are provided.
An old poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow tells how far-reaching a personal song (or story) might be. Writing your own story may be life-changing for you. It may also be life-changing for someone else.
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
I shot an arrow into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For, so swiftly it flew, the sight
Could not follow it in its flight.
I breathed a song into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For who has sight so keen and strong,
That it can follow the flight of song?
Long, long afterward, in an oak
I found the arrow, still unbroke;
And the song, from beginning to end,
I found again in the heart of a friend.