Can I Just Tell You?
10:38 am
Wed March 5, 2014

The Value Of Storytelling

Originally published on Wed March 5, 2014 3:00 pm

Transcript

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

So finally today, a word about stories. If you caught the Oscars Sunday night or the coverage after, you probably heard Lupita Nyong'o's elegant remarks as she accepted her award for her role as Patsey in the award-winning "12 Years a Slave."

(SOUNDBITE OF ACADEMY AWARDS)

NYONG'O: It doesn't escape me for one moment that so much joy in my life is thanks to so much pain in someone else's. And so I want to salute the spirit of Patsey for her guidance. And for Solomon, thank you for telling her story and your own.

MARTIN: That got me thinking about stories, why it's important to tell them even when you might think no one is listening. It's remarkable to consider that Solomon Northup's incredible but all-too-true story of being kidnapped, sold into slavery and eventually regaining his freedom had been largely forgotten, at least by those outside of academia. Yet the story was headline news in its own time, as I learned when some thoughtful person retrieved the January 20, 1853 article from the New York Times archive to correct the headline, of all things.

Everything about his story is remarkable and painful, as those who have rediscovered Northup's own account or watched the movie will surely know. But none of it would have been known but for the willingness of Northup to set it down. Stories like these are all around us. Some of them, we've had the privilege to tell ourselves on our program, like the story of the basketball player Alex Owumi, who found himself trapped in Benghazi, Libya as the city was falling apart.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVAL RECORDING)

ALEX OWUMI: February 17 was actually the day that I witnessed - this is, you know - this is real tough for me to talk about, even 'til this day. February 17, witnessed about 200 people murdered right in front of my own eyes. You know, it kind of felt like a dream, but it was actually reality. At the time, I was 26 years old. I don't think any man or any young boy, period, should even witness things like that.

MARTIN: Sometimes, when I'm having a rough day at my job, I think about the story that Belen Robles told me. She was the first woman leader of LULAC, a Latino civil rights organization that she joined in its early days. She told me what made her to join to begin with - her own search for a job.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVAL RECORDING)

BELEN ROBLES: I had taken some secretarial courses in high school, so I felt myself very well-prepared. So consequently, I made appointments to visit the major corporations in El Paso. And the first one I went to gave me the shock of my life. There was the security at the lobby, and when I told the person who I had an appointment with, she said, you must be mistaken because we don't hire Mexicans except for elevator girls and cooks.

And this gentleman doesn't interview for that. I said, well, I have an appointment, and will you please direct me there? I was almost in tears. I mentioned to the gentleman what I had been told. He said, oh, no, Mrs. Robles. Fill out the application, and let me check around and see if we have any openings. Of course, they didn't. And he said, we'll call you if we had an opening. And of course, I never heard from them.

MARTIN: People often say we live in a confessional age, and they don't generally mean this in a good way. I can see why. My office right now is filled with books, many of them unsolicited, some of them well-written, a lot of them pretty bad. But can I just tell you, this week's Oscars have reminded me that I don't have to like a story or want to read it or hear it for that story to have value to someone somewhere at some point. Solomon and Patsey's story in "12 Years a Slave," as those of millions like them, was lost and then was found. And now it lives forever. Once again, Lupita Nyong'o said it so well.

(SOUNDBITE OF ACADEMY AWARDS)

NYONG'O: When I look down at this golden statue, may it remind me and every little child that no matter where you're from, your dreams are valid.

MARTIN: And so are your stories. And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.