Going behind the scenes: the story behind Storytime

For half an hour every Sunday evening, Paresky’s Henze Lounge is the hearth where students at the College gather to hear stories shared by other students, members of the faculty and members of the staff. This tradition is called Storytime. Storytime began in 2007 and the Williams College Storyboard, whose members receive and pursue speaker nominations, select speakers and bake the cookies that are a staple of Storytime sessions.

Photo Courtesy of Hannah Levin. Students circle around a Storytime speaker at Paresky’s Henze Lounge on a Sunday evening.

“I think very few people think about the things that go into putting Storytime on – it just happens. I think in some ways we kind of like that, it’s just like a magical thing that happens every Sunday,” Hannah Levin ’16, a member of Storyboard, said. Levin is one of the most senior of Storyboard’s 11 members, but she shares equal authority in the group’s decisions; Storyboard has no hierarchy of command. Marissa Levin Shapiro ’18, another Storyboard member, remarked, “One thing about Storyboard that I think is really interesting is that it’s the most democratic organization I have been on. It doesn’t have a board power structure … I’ve never seen that work before.” The group rotates its responsibilities among members on a weekly basis and makes decisions through discussion and debate.

The easy democracy of Storyboard is a reflection of the group’s commitment to inclusivity. Thinking about her aspirations for the group, Levin reflected, “If I had one goal [for Storyboard], it would be that everyone feels comfortable at Storytime and everyone feels as though, even if it isn’t their story being told, their voice can be heard at Storytime … I want everyone to feel as though Storytime is for them.” To that effect, Storyboard makes an effort to choose speakers who are relatable and engaging. “We choose people based on the speaker rather than the story,” Shapiro said.

“A lot of people think they don’t have a story to share,” Isabel Andrade ’18, also a Storyboard member, said, but oftentimes these people still prove to be great Storytime speakers. Andrade added, “Something that really impressed me about Storytime was sometimes sitting there and listening to someone make sense of their experiences, and in a way their reflections were also reflections I was going through at the time.” The magic in Storytime is not in its interesting stories, but its interesting speakers who invite the audience to experience their lives through their stories, however fantastical or mundane.

Sometimes, these reflections also provide some clarity for the speaker, such as with Divya Sampath ’18, a recent Storytime speaker who had trouble picking a particular story to tell. “My story was an explanation for why I have so many stories,” she said. As the daughter of a mother in her 70s and father in his 80s, she felt that her parents were not able to provide her with a typical childhood, but their experience and stability also gave her unique opportunities and required her to be more self-reliant. Through preparing her stories for the Storytime audience, she realized that her peculiar upbringing is the source of her independence, but her story also detailed how she had to come to terms with their age and the salience of their mortality relative to her youth. “I saw all of those stories come together as a single narrative rather than these disjointed things … Telling the story helped me realize a lot of things about myself,” Sampath says.

Storytelling and Storytime is about sharing a narrative, but it is also about connecting with the Williams community and witnessing the support students at the College provide one another every day. To those whom have not joined the Storytime community, Levin says, “You won’t remember the homework assignment you were working on, but you may remember the story you came and heard and that could have a much more profound effect on you tomorrow.” Storytime happens every Sunday at 9 p.m. in the second floor of Paresky, at Henze Lounge.

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