Literary musings, and news you can use, with amye archer
An open letter to our young people
Last weekend, I was honored to be part of Scranton’s very first Story Slam competition. Inspired by the MOTH event in New York City, Story Slam featured several storytellers doing just that: telling a story. Each tale was around five minutes and each story had to be told without the aid of notes, all from memory. I was nervous all week; a ship rocking in my stomach kept me up nights worrying about whether or not I could pull this off. If it was a reading, I’d be confident in my abilities, but memorization? I’m someone who walks into a room and forgets what she came in for. I’m someone who has to smell my hair in the shower to remember if I shampooed it yet or not. Memory is not my strong point.
Then, I walked into the Vintage Theater and my nerves intensified. I had never seen a crowd like that.
More than 140 people, all supporters of the arts, crammed into the open space, ready to hear us, ready to hear me, ready to hear stories. At one point, as I was sitting in my chair looking around at the crowd, I remember leaning over to my husband and whispering, “This feels like a New York City event.” And it did. And in the end, we were all fine and the event turned out to be widely successful.
But for an entire week afterwards, I couldn’t stop my mind from going back to that crowded theater, the lights burning pink onto my cheeks, the warmth draped over me like a blanket. I couldn’t stop thinking about that night, about how northeastern Pennsylvania came out in full force, about how packed that space was, about how wonderfully each of the storytellers performed, and finally, about the fact that it was all orchestrated by a high school senior, Zoe McNichols.
As Zoe, our coordinator, stood on stage, young and bright, with a fire burning in her eyes, I thought to myself, “This is what Scranton needs — more of her…” We are capable of producing talented young people, but are we capable of keeping them here? Scranton has a reputation for giving birth to these talented young minds, only to have them leave the nest and spread their wings elsewhere. Are there young and talented people who have decided to stay? Yes, and I am so grateful for them every day. But more often than not, they are drawn to somewhere bigger and shinier, some bigger city where the arts are plenty.
This thought came to me again as I sat a few days later at Keystone College listening to poet Patricia Smith, a National Book Award Finalist, read her poetry. I realized how truly unique it was that I had heard Taylor Mali two weeks previous, and Smith this week. And it got me thinking. With so many events happening in the city, I can’t help but feel that if ever there was a time to stick it out, to believe in our city, this is it. I have always been a proponent of the idea that “Scranton is coming back.”
Many can attest that I have been saying this for years. But sweating it out among my fellow storytellers, sitting side by side with my students amidst Patricia Smith’s unbelievable sharp and deft words, I am embarrassed to admit that for the first time, I truly believe it.
I have made a conscious decision to stay here, as have many of my writerly friends. I write a lot about Scranton in my book, and have decided that I want to live what I preach. I am convinced that we have a growing and vital arts scene here. I am convinced that some of the artists and writers in this area are some of the most talented I have ever met. And I invite you, young people, to join us in staying here; to plant yourself at the beginning of something, to help us build on what has already begun.
We need more of you. We need people like Zoe and her spirit. We need planners and organizers, active artists who believe that if they build it, we will show up. Because we will. We will support your endeavors, and create new ways for you to grow. This city is one of spirit. She is one of strength and her victories thus far have been hard fought. But she is real and alive, and we just need you to believe in her, like we believe in you.
Amye Barrese Archer is a writer and teacher in Scranton. You can read more about her at www.amyearcher.com.