Stories at a distance: Albuquerque virtual event aims to build a creative community

Community Reports

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Under normal circumstances, Storytellers of New Mexico would host events where community members could share their story under one roof called Duke City Story Slam. Since meeting in-person isn’t an option because of the COVID-19 pandemic, they decided to provide a virtual platform to continue the tradition. Stories at a Distance is the stand-in virtual event, where true stories that follow a theme are told.

Stories at a Distance takes place over Zoom every fourth Tuesday of the month and recruits “Featured Tellers” who are provided with story crafting support and a rehearsal before the event. “Open Mic Tellers” can spontaneously put their name in the hat during the event for a chance to tell their 5-minute true story on that month’s theme.

The virtual event started as a way to tell personal stories, but after June of last year and the Black Lives Matter protests began, themes shifted focus to issues of social justice. One of the organizers of the monthly event, Cindi Allen, said following in tradition with Duke City Story Slam, they dedicated June’s theme to LGBTQ+ and Black Lives Matter. Previous months have followed themes of immigration, domestic violence, Native American experiences and this month is about overcoming obstacles and living with disabilities.

New Yorker Jack Azariah will be one of the speakers during Tuesday evening’s talk. He’s a soon-to-be author of a book based on his life and the difficulties he’s experienced with his mental health and dealing with the disability program. “I want people to know how hard it is to get recognized for disability, especially when you have what is considered an invisible illness,” Azariah said. “It’s been a really difficult journey getting my disability recognized, so one of the things I’m going to point out is how unfair the system really is.”

Azariah said working with Storytellers of New Mexico has been a positive experience for him. “Now that I’m well I’m ready to share my story. I’m open about it so people can understand what it’s like,” Azariah said. “I’ll be able to use my recovery and my journey to help those going through their recovery.”

Stories at a Distance team member Tiffany Montavon said they get viewers from around the country, one of the positive outcomes of hosting the event online. The Featured Tellers that they work with also have the opportunity to choose an organization to donate the donations from the night to. “Story Tellers of New Mexico exists to help people learn how to tell their stories, to amplify individual voices to tell stories, to give people places to tell stories because we are a story culture,” Montavon said. “We as humans tell stories, that’s what helps us grow strong hearts and souls to live.”

Additionally, the organization has partnered with the Sign Language program at the University of New Mexico to provide a more inclusive experience for the community. “The students have to do a certain amount of hours to practice, so we have two signers,” Montavon said. We’re so proud to have the whole program is signed.”

This month’s event will begin at 7 p.m. on Zoom. For more information, visit the Storytellers of New Mexico website.

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