Local News

Audiences warm to storytelling show in Homewood

Storytelling is hot.

Local storyteller Ruth B., a retired nurse, got her start
at Homewood. Stories after attending storytelling
workshops held by show host Karen O’Donnell.

In Homewood, you can feel the heat at Grady’s Grill the third Tuesday of each month, as a growing audience of story lovers gather to hear ordinary experiences come to life in an extraordinary way.

In the Chicago area, there are about 50 storytelling shows every month, a number that has roughly doubled in the past couple of years.

The resurgence of storytelling shows in Chicago is mostly a Wrigleyville area phenomenon, with some exceptions, and one is Homewood Stories, a monthly storytelling event founded in January by local dentist Karen O’Donnell.

The shows take place at 7:30 p.m. each third Tuesday at Grady’s, 18147 Harwood Ave. The room is usually full, so contacting O’Donnell in advance at [email protected] is advisable. There is no fee to attend, but O’Donnell does accept donations to help defray costs.

Kucha Brownlee tells a story at the October Homewood
Stories show. Brownlee and her partner, Baba Tony Brown,
are well-known tellers of folk tales rooted in African 
story traditions.

The show was almost immediately popular when O’Donnell hosted the first one in January. In spite of the worst winter weather in decades, with a visit by a polar vortex before the event and regular snow storms throughout the month, 45 people showed up for the first show.

“Forty had never been to a story show before. They had no idea what to expect,” she said. “It was so exciting, I totally forgot to introduce myself.” 
In March, an experienced storyteller told O’Donnell, “It took us five years to get an audience like this.” 

In April, the room was full. In August, O’Donnell had to turn people away. And each show has been to a full house since.

“One of the big reasons for that is, it’s meeting a need here in the community,” O’Donnell said.

‘True stories, told live’

Homewood Stories is similiar in style to The Moth, an award-winning storytelling organization founded in New York in 1997. Its events are characterized by its subtitle: “True stories told live.”

Paul Teodo tells a story about his father at the September show.

Tellers at Homewood Stories tend to take that approach, telling true stories in first person stance. 

At the November show, O’Donnell told a story about a dating misadventure following her divorce. Ruth B. told about her inauguration into the world of emergency nursing. David Santori confessed about a confession gone wrong. Rich Aspell told how an unusual holiday tradition helped him redeem a childhood of bad Christmases. David Boyle wove humor through a story of loss that had audience members alternately gasping for air and wiping away tears.

“We laughed. We cried,” said regulars Jennie and Sonnie said almost in unison after the show. And Jennie added, “Actually, we did.”

Like most shows, Homewood’s has its own characteristics, too, shaped to a great extent by O’Donnell and her storytelling story. 

Enoch Williamson provides the beat while Gwen Hilary 
tells a story at the September Homewood Stories show.

The show is not an open mic event. O’Donnell arranges for a lineup of storytellers each month, making use of the many connections she has made in the Chicago storytelling scene. Tellers have a time limit so the show doesn’t meander late into the night. 

The show also presents a mix of experienced and new tellers. Each month, experienced local or Chicago area tellers appear, but so do local people who are telling on stage for the first time. For example, in August, the show featured experienced tellers O’Donnell, Karen Genelly and Don Hall. Hall is the live events director for WBEZ radio and hosts Chicago’s Moth Storyslam. 

And there was a local teller, Ruth B., who got her nursing education from Prairie State College, telling a story in public for the first time.

And while most tell true stories, a few folk tales have been told, too. And O’Donnell has convinced a couple of experienced folk tale tellers to try their hands at telling true stories.

That variety of experience and style might be the defining characteristic of Homewood Stories.

“I’m nurturing something new here, and I feel like I’m the shepherd of it,” she said. “It’s like what I was born to do.”

But she insists that neither she nor the tellers are the real stars of the show. In her view, the star of the show is the audience, the people who come together to listen.
The magic of storytelling?

“Stories bring people together.”

That, she said, is the source of the warmth storytelling is generating.

Keep up with Homewood Stories:
On Facebook

Related stories:
The art of ordinary life: Why storytelling nights are suddenly everywhere (Pop City, Nov. 5, 2014)
This Is Your Brain on Good Storytelling (Inc., Nov. 12, 2014)

A few stops in the Chicago area storytelling scene:

Photos by Eric Crump/HF Chronicle
Contact Eric Crump at [email protected]

Editor’s note: The writer’s wife, Amy Crump, is a storyteller and member of Illinois Storytelling’s board of directors.

News by email

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.

Free weekly newsletter

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.
Most read stories this week

Community Calendar