Friday, August 2, 2013


From now on you do not define me.

Through tears of pain and relief
determination and survival
celebration and liberation
with quiet dignity
Michelle Knight took back her story
from Ariel Castro

From now on you do not define me.

She boldly faced the man
who attempted to kidnap her story
--a second time.

I am not a monster he said.  I am not violent.
You know that home was full of harmony.

You may not,
she said, tell my story anymore.

It was never yours to tell.

From now on you do not define me.

Who owns our stories?

Who has the right to navigate the bloodlines of our identity?
Who is entitled to narrate the flesh and bones of our being?

Who controls the power of our stories?

According to Amy Shuman, and most professional storytellers, you are the only one who can authentically and legitimately tell your story.

 For several summers now, Amy Shuman has talked with the participants in the Columbus Area Writing Project summer institute about the power of telling stories and the ownership of those stories.

Three important  principles she presents regarding story include:

 1. Entitlement
You own your own story/experiences and no one can talk about them or tell them but you.
One of my standard responses is It is not my story to tell, when asked why I didn't tell a story, share juicy gossip, or rat on someone. Although, until hearing Amy, I was not aware of the notion of entitlement, I was unconsciously recognizing the authority of story ownership. Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry, and Gina DeJesus own their stories--- exclusively.

We heard Michelle Knight in court at the sentencing of Arial Castro invoke the rule of entitlement:  From now on you do not define me she told him. In essence, she was saying You are not entitled to tell my story. Ever!

2. Tellability
What makes a story tellable and what bears telling?
We usually expect a story to have certain components.  On our state standardized test the students are expected, even in the lower elementary grades, to know the following basic components of story: characters, setting, events, conflict, and resolution.

For many years I, along many other teachers, have taught students to use the following words as a simplified key to summarizing a story: Somebody-Wanted-But-So-Then.  These words lead students through a simple summary or expanded retelling, and have been around so long that, regretfully, I am not able to cite an original source.

However simple these key words, they loosely coincide with the more complex Narrative Theory of William Labov and his components of story, which include the following:
  • The Abstract- Where does this story begin?
  • The Orienting Information- What do you need to know to understand this story?
  • The Complicating Action-What happened?
  • The Evaluation- What are the motivations in telling this story? How do I comment on or evaluate the events?
  • The Resolution- How does it end?
  • The Coda- What does this story mean?

3. Storyability
What is the appropriateness of telling a story on a particular occasion? Is this the time and the place to tell my story?  Is this the appropriate audience? 
In the courtroom and before the entire television world-- during the sentencing trial for Castro where the world could see the monster in all his inglorious horror-- this was the appropriate place for Michelle Knight to tell her story, to make her statement.  This was the time.  This was the audience.

As I watched Knight speak, I was reminded of  the movie Precious , based on Push: A Novel by Sapphire.  It tells of a young girl raped, abused, and degraded unmercifully by her parents. In the telling, finally came her power. As she learned to read and write she became more empowered.  As she wrote her own story, with the encouragement of her teacher, she became present to her own body, her circumstances, and her possibilities. Her silence until this point had imprisoned her and stripped her of her present and her personhood.

As Michelle Knight took back her story, the chains were unlocked and broken, the darkness dispelled, and her body and life her own.

She faced her worst nightmare-- the devil himself --and took back her story.

From now on you do not define me.
You do not own me
You may not tell my story
It was never yours to tell.

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

Reflect on the power of story.
Remember a time when telling your story or a portion of your story empowered you.
When has hearing someone else's story inspired you or allowed you to recognize or connect to your own story in a new way?

Write about the power of story in your life. 

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