Tell me a story
Island neighbor, storyteller, workshop leader, and all-around Renaissance woman Susan Klein takes the stage at the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown Saturday night for a free performance sponsored by the Martha's Vineyard Savings Bank.
Between delivering the keynote speech at the 26th Sharing the Fire Conference on storytelling in New Hampshire last weekend, teaching a memoir writing class at the Tisbury Senior Center, and conducting telephone consultations, a busy Ms. Klein took time to talk about her work.
Stressing the value of memoirs, Ms. Klein explained how her Saturday performance complements the workshops that she has been teaching on the Island. "People are really beginning to understand the value of the personal narrative," she says, adding that teaching the sessions is "a luscious way to spend my time."
Ms. Klein says that her "Spice of Life" memoir workshops are nothing like conventional writing classes. During the eight-week series Ms. Klein teaches participants to utilize a unique system she has developed to, "gather and cross-reference memories so we don't have to re-remember." Once they are organized, these precious memories cannot be lost. "We grab it before it's gone," she explains.
Ms. Klein has taught her memoir workshops in locations across the United States and in Europe. On Martha's Vineyard, she is will hold her third session on May 1, with only three openings left in the 20-person class. The workshops have met with great enthusiasm, she says. A read-through of a recent class list is a cross section of the Vineyard community, people from many professions, experiences, and walks of life. Many students move from the eight-week program into a four-week extension course, with the focus on turning memory into written memoir.
"Some are doing it for their grandchildren, some are doing it for publication, some for the joy of the journey itself, and some are writing because they're compelled," Ms. Klein says. "These budding memoirists are very serious about their work and are developing their writing styles which are showcasing a glorious variety of life experiences."
Grateful to the Tisbury Senior Center for co-sponsoring and hosting the classes, Ms. Klein also expresses appreciation for grants received from the Permanent Endowment Fund of Martha's Vineyard, Martha's Vineyard Cultural Council (MVCC), and the Farm Neck Foundation. "This has allowed me to offer the workshop for a low fee and therefore make it available to a larger number of would-be memoirists," she says.
Ms. Klein, who grew up in Oak Bluffs, has had many roles from actress and teacher to storyteller and workshop leader. When asked where the traditional art of storytelling fits into contemporary life, Ms. Klein places it at the very center. "We're human beings and we talk story," she declares. "It's what we do."
Speaking in her characteristic "just-between-you-and-me" tone, Ms. Klein says she is looking forward to sharing her stories with a few hundred Island friends and neighbors on Saturday. And she hopes that audience members will do more than just listen.
"I suggest that people come with the idea that they let the stories trigger their own imaginations about their own lives," says Ms. Klein. "When one listens to memoir on stage, it's about the universal in the particular. The result is resonance and the triggering of our own experience."
Ms. Klein is deeply involved in a wide array of activities. "One project follows another," she says. "There's always something new and challenging."
She remains enthusiastic about her work, even after some 25 years of traveling, sharing her stories and participating in workshops. She received a commission for a one-woman show and recording about the Raritan River Flood in New Jersey after Hurricane Floyd for which she interviewed countless survivors, rescuers, and officials.
Along with being an editor and personal coach for stage and written work, she also teaches children's picture-book workshops, and leads classes and workshops on the application of storytelling for lawyers, ministers, educators and others; public speaking and emceeing.
Among the honors Ms. Klein has received are the locally prestigious Creative Living Award presented by the Permanent Endowment Fund of Martha's Vineyard that aims to honor an individual with "a creative and luminous spirit."
In response to a question about the significance of her business name, Ruby Window Productions, Ms. Klein is circumspect. "If I explain that I will blow the first selection on the program."
But those who attend on Saturday night will most likely learn the answer, and so much more.
Susan Klein presents a program on storytelling on Saturday, April 12, at 7:30 pm in the Baylies Room of the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown. Martha's Vineyard Savings Bank is offering free copies of her 1995 memoir, "Through a Ruby Window: A Martha's Vineyard Childhood," to the first 250 arrivals.