Throughout history, women have made considerable contributions to society in countless ways, including through the power of storytelling. In celebration of Women’s History Month, we want to amplify and celebrate the voices of some of these notable women.
The women featured here have changed our world for the better with their storytelling prowess. From them we learn many lessons about storytelling, including these four truths…
There Is Never a Single Story
Chimanmanda Ngozi Adichie, in her TED Talk viewed by millions, “The Danger of a Single Story,” provides an important lesson for us all to understand: “there is never a single story.”
Adichie cautions us that if a single story is repeated it can shape how we understand and view the experience(s) shared in the story. “That is how to create a single story, show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become… Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person.”
Stories have many benefits and stories are powerful, and thus, we must work to harness them responsibly. Stories are often used to simply communicate human experiences, which are by nature, complicated. But ultimately, stories are just one piece of a puzzle. Adichie’s words remind us that we can’t understand the full puzzle from one piece, and we need to critically consume each puzzle piece, so we don’t fall into the trap of misunderstanding identity and experiences.
The next time you craft a story, remember that you are like a painter painting an experience for others that will be associated with feelings, behaviors, and information that will shape cognitive understanding. When crafting stories, be thoughtful about the impact they may have on the characters within the story and the audience members who are exposed to the story.
Authentic & Vulnerable Stories Are Strongest
During her TED Talk she shared that authentic storytelling is an important tool in her craft and in life. She explains how storytelling creates new spaces, can take on new life, and can make connections that otherwise wouldn’t have occurred: “I fully expected by breaking the contract of comedy and telling my story in all its truth and pain that that would push me further into the margins of both life and art. I expected that, and I was willing to pay that cost in order to tell my truth. But that is not what happened. The world did not push me away. It pulled me closer. Through an act of disconnection, I found connection.”
Hannah concludes by sharing that the stories she shared now live and grow in a whole world of other minds, minds she doesn’t share, but that she is connected with. And that connection is bigger than her, and all of us, “just like the purpose of being human is so much bigger than all of us.”
So, the next time you share a story, remember to be authentic, because vulnerability—while we might fear it—often acts as a bridge connecting us with others allowing the opportunity to bring us closer to one another.
Stories Illuminate Future Possibilities
Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett is most recently known for being the scientific lead for the Coronavirus Vaccines and Immunopathogenesis Team at the National Institutes of Health, and as a valued orator who communicates sophisticated scientific information about COVID-19 and vaccines in an easily digestible way.
In an interview with Black Enterprise in the Spring of 2020, Dr. Corbett shared a personal story. Early in her life, with the support of her parents, she had the opportunity to work in a chemistry lab at the University of North Carolina with a world-renowned organic chemist. She shared that “beyond the love for science and the scientific process that I learned in that moment, what I learned mostly is that being him was possible.”
Not only has Dr. Corbett brought us life— literally through her work on the COVID-19 vaccine—but, she also gives life through her storytelling. This light bulb moment in which she sees her potential to become a scientist is inspiring, and could help the audience to see their own future possibilities.
The next time you want to inspire and motivate others, consider sharing a personal story like this one.
Stories About Transformation Can Heal
By now, you are probably familiar with award-winning storyteller and poet, Amanda Gorman. Gorman, the youngest inaugural poet in history, wrote and delivered her poem, “The Hill We Climb,” at the 2021 Presidential Inauguration.
Her speech was designed to speak to the masses, and she acknowledged this challenge in an interview, when she described it as “a really difficult dance to do.” At a time when our country was suffering through COVID-19, and was deeply divided, Gorman used storytelling and poetry to provide a healing vision for our future, one grounded in “unity and the new chapter of America.”
The following excerpt from her speech exemplifies how storytelling can be used to unify and heal:
“We will not march back to what was, but move to what shall be: a country that is bruised, but whole; benevolent, but bold; fierce and free. We will not be turned around or interrupted by intimidation, because we know our inaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation. Our blunders become their burdens. But one thing is certain, if we merge mercy with might, and might with right, then love becomes our legacy, and change our children’s birthright. So, let us leave behind a country better than one we were left. With every breath from my bronze-pounded chest, we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one… We will rebuild, reconcile and recover in every known nook of our nation, in every corner called our country our people diverse and beautiful will emerge battered and beautiful.”
Gorman expertly displays how stories can work to heal by moving listeners from the soggy depths of what is to the sunny skies of what could be.
Women’s History Month is a time to pause and celebrate women and their contributions throughout history. We hope that we’ve done justice to the women whose stories we’ve presented here. Through them we are reminded of the great power of stories. As Gadsby suggests, stories are bigger than all of us.
Illustrated by Alexis Macias