Road Scholars

January 31, 2012
by
2 mins read

George Dawes Green has spent most of his life spinning some kind of yarn. And judging by his track record, the novelist and storyteller knows how to please an audience. Two of Green’s books have been adapted into major motion pictures (“The Cavemen’s Valentine” and “The Juror”), and another was a critically acclaimed bestseller (“Ravens”), but his biggest success to date has been seeding the nation’s fertile storytelling soil.

In 1997, Green founded “The Moth,” a storytelling night staged at venues throughout Manhattan that invited ordinary folks to take the microphone. The events quickly became sellout successes, with fans and fellow storytellers like Salman Rushdie, Garrison Keillor, Malcolm Gladwell and Sam Shepherd showing up to participate.

The hip, urban cachet of “The Moth” was actually rooted in the sleepy South. Green was hoping to recreate some of the magic he and his friends had conjured years earlier in his native Georgia, as they sat and told stories on the front porch of the home of Green’s best friend, Wanda Bullard. There was a hole in the screen where moths would fly in, attracted to the light in the same way that Green and his pals were drawn to spoken tales.

Green no longer coordinates gatherings of “The Moth,” but the events have continued, and spread, with similar storytelling nights springing up in Los Angeles, Detroit, Chicago, Atlanta and Boston. (An NPR radio show, “Moth on the Radio,” airs on 200 stations, and is available locally via podcast.)

“People love stories and they love raconteur-style stories,” Green says. “They want stories that are personal, true and unscripted.”

Growing up in St. Simons Island, Green enjoyed spending summer nights listening to family members regale one another with Southern sagas about their own childhoods and the Civil War. “You know, I never really went to school,” he laughingly admits. “I never graduated the eighth grade. I kind of got out kind of quickly and hitchhiked around.”

Green eventually got his GED and wound up in Manhattan, where he’s spent most of his adult life. But, he adds, “I’ve always been coming back down here over the years and I’ve always had a lot of special connections here.”

Green has called on some of those same connections for “The Unchained Tour,” a sort-of mobile storytelling troupe. Though not formally connected with “The Moth,” the people involved share Green’s zeal for tales, including Peter Aguero of the NYC “improvisational storytelling rock band” the BTK Band, “This American Life” contributor Elna Baker, novelist actress and former editor at French Vogue, Joan Juliet Buck, award-winning journalist Tina A. Brown, the “sloppy tonk” band Shovels & Rope and playwright Edgar Oliver. Green jokingly describes the assortment as an “elite and carefully handpicked” group, each of whom entertains audiences for roughly 10 minutes apiece.

“They’re not readings because they’re not allowed to read anything,” clarifies Green. “You have to cook it up in your head as you go along.” Traveling in a wildly painted ’72 Blue Bird school bus, “The Unchained Tour” hits nine cities in three days, including eight in Georgia and a single Florida appearance here in Jacksonville. This idea of taking a literary “happening” on the road harkens to those trippy troubadours of the ’60s, Ken Kesey and The Merry Pranksters, but Green denies “The Unchained Tour” will be wired on primo LSD as Kesey and Co. were. “Well, you know, we should be, but unfortunately, we’re in a new era,” he laughs. “But we do kind of insist on a little bourbon drinking.”

The group uses the term “unchained” to celebrate independent bookstores and to urge independence from the Internet, which Green calls “that horrible possum that people crawl into every night.” The tour is dedicated to Wanda Bullard, a founding member of the group who recently passed away. “She was my best friend,” says Green, “and one of the greatest storytellers I will ever know.”

Dan Brow

dbrown@folioweekly.com

Folio is your guide to entertainment and culture around and near Jacksonville, Florida. We cover events, concerts, restaurants, theatre, sports, art, happenings, and all things about living and visiting Jax. Folio serves more than two million readers across Jacksonville and Northeast Florida, including St. Augustine, The Beaches, and Fernandina.

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