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Classy Classes: Students craft stories in ‘Your American Life’

(TYLER JOHNSON/The Stanford Daily)

(TYLER JOHNSON/The Stanford Daily)

Students of Oral Communication 130: “Your American Life” will spend this winter learning to craft podcast and radio shows to the tune of “This American Life” and New York Public Radio’s “Radiolab.”

Taught by Storytelling lecturer Jake Warga, the class will help students follow and communicate narrative stories of their choosing. Warga spent more than a decade traveling around the world documenting cultures, places and people; his work has found its way to major podcasts such as “This American Life” and “Radiolab” as well as shows for National Public Radio.

Warga said he sees his role more as a facilitator than a professor.

“At the beginning I talk a lot, and we listen to radio documentaries, and we critically listen to them,” Warga said. “And then we look very closely to unpack very famous radio pieces and identify all the elements, sort of dissect them to ask, ‘How can we use those in our stories?’ By the end I’m pretty much in the background. The projects drive everything.”

The class focuses on story-driven pieces, specifically memoirs, documentaries or investigations. Warga said that when creating their works, students should not seek to give their audience “an answer,” instead encouraging listeners to ask better questions.

“We don’t care how; I could Google that,” Warga said. “What I want to know and what students really want to find out is why do we do this? How does this benefit some larger insight?”

Current students of the class are interested in utilizing it as an opportunity to learn how to share the stories of others.

Mo Asebiomo ’20 said she is “really curious about empowering communities to tell narratives.”

Another student, Lucas Hornsby ’21, a Daily staffer, said he was looking forward to engaging with news in a new medium.

“I engage with a lot of print journalism,” Hornsby said. “I’d like to explore a different medium of storytelling.”

“These are highly transferable skills,” Warga explained. “Whatever storytelling project class you take, you learn these certain skill sets about narrativizing, about sharing something, about engaging a listener. Whether you’re literally using your own voice or [writing] in a way that is not academic.”

 

Contact Tyler Johnson at tjohn21 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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