Rebecca Solnit On The Power Of A Story

Jul 18, 2014

Human beings have been drawn to stories for thousands of years. They captivate us. We yearn for them — “tell the one about … ” — ad infinitum. Sometimes we get the story right. Sometimes not. Stories break. Stories change. And sometimes it helps to turn a story upside down.

Our guest is writer and historian Rebecca Solnit. Her books explore ecology, landscape, community, art and politics.

She spoke as part of Seattle Arts and Lectures’ Literary/Arts Series at Town Hall Seattle on June 5.

Her writing has been called eccentric, meandering and visionary. She centers her work on the power of story. In her 2013 memoir, "The Faraway Nearby," she writes:

We think we tell stories, but stories often tell us, tell us to love or to hate, to see or to be blind. Often, too often, stories saddle us, ride us, whip us onward, tell us what to do, and we do it without questioning. The task of learning to be free requires learning to hear them, to question them, to pause and hear silence, to name them, and then to become the storyteller.

The word "story" derives from the Greek word "historia," meaning “a learning or knowing by inquiry, or an account of one's inquiries.” It wasn’t until the 1500s that the word approached our more modern definition: “an account of imaginary or real people and events told for entertainment.” Solnit may intend to refine the definition further.

Solnit has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, the National Book Critics Circle Award in criticism, and the Lannan Literary Award. Her latest books are "Men Explain Things to Me" and "The Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness."

Thanks to Edward Wolcher and Ayan Sheikh for this recording. And thanks to Ruth Dickey and Rebecca Hoogs of Seattle Arts and Lectures for partnering with us on this episode, and Jen Graves of The Stranger for moderating the Q&A.