Electric Eel

Storytelling, Alone Together (Part 1)

Issue 052
December 03, 2020



It’s been a while! We’ve been a bit lonely… This December, MCD is thinking about: coming together when we’re apart, what it means to be “live” behind the screen, and how nice it can be to hear a familiar voice. But also, the world goes on, and we have three new books coming out this month (more below!)… For now, “Storytelling, Alone Together, Part 1”:

To celebrate the Yuletide season, the passage of time––and, as usual, the possibilities of storytelling––we’d like to start with an advent calendar. In collaboration with our friends at One Grand, we’re bringing you a star-studded 25-day marathon reading of Maria Dahvana Headley’s new translation of Beowulf, featuring a cast of storytellers of all kinds: NPR hosts and classicists, choreographers and pornographers, singers and dancers, plus a few “normal” writers.

Here, watch Maria introduce the project.

“In working on the translation, I was thinking about how to convey an expression of an oral tradition, of something that was created to be performed. Some scholars believe that the version we have now, which exists in one written copy from about 1025 AD––people feel that, maybe, this was a transcription of an actual performance. I think that’s true! … So I was working on making it feel that way, like we would be in a mead hall or a bar, listening to a performer blow it out, basically… I was hoping we could both channel the past and feel ourselves in our present moment, enjoying a little bit of performance, in the way that it might have been back in the day, to listen to a bard.”

“It’s been a hard year, so this is a storytime for a hard year: dark days of December. It’s a Yuletide advent calendar of Beowulf, which is a crazy thing––the Beowulf poem is both Christian and pagan: the story is pagan, the storytellers are Christian. It’s a mixture of things. And that feels very modern to me.”

“Merry Holidays (all the holidays); may the dark days of December be banished and filled with blood and guts and gore and poetry and love.”

Every day in December until the 25th at 12PM EST, one reading will go live here. You can buy signed copies of Beowulf here.

Our bards, day by day:

  1. Miz Cracker
  2. Diane Cook
  3. Justin Vivian Bond
  4. Neil Gaiman
  5. Sara Quin
  6. Alan Cumming
  7. Alan Cumming
  8. John Darnielle
  9. Felicia Day
  10. Anika Noni Rose
  11. Dylan Baker
  12. Rhiannon Giddens
  13. Becky Ann Baker
  14. Laurie Anderson
  15. Jeff VanderMeer
  16. Robin Sloan
  17. Esme Weijun Wang
  18. Emily Wilson
  19. Ron Charles
  20. Stoya
  21. Ari Shapiro
  22. JD Jackson
  23. Brontez Purnell
  24. Bill T. Jones
  25. Maria Dahvana Headey

In the spirit of collective storytelling, oral history, and digital liveness, we’re also interested in:

  • The NYC Trans Oral History Project: a community archive devoted to the collection, preservation and sharing of trans histories, organized in collaboration with the New York Public Library. You can listen to interviews and read transcripts of their interviews, plus learn about volunteering or starting your own oral history project, on their website. When does storytelling become collective action?
  • Wendy’s Subway, a reading room, writing space, and independent publisher. Their beautiful space in Bushwick, which hosts an amazing library of poetry, philosophy, fiction, criticism, and art books, is FREE and open to the public (mask on, and with an appointment). They also host a residency program to support other organizations, small publishers, and collective artist’s projects (including, in fact, the Trans Oral History Project!). What does it mean to read and write, together?
  • If you’re interested in more olden tales, MCD’s own Robin Sloan (author of Sourdough) will do his annual virtual reading of 14th century adventure/romance Sir Gawain & Green Knight, which will occur––live!––here on January 1st, 2021.
  • www.tumblr.com––‘Tis the season for nostalgia, and this is the original collective myth-making/remixing medium of the digital age… ‘Tis a good time to start a blog.