The Importance of Oral Tradition and Storytelling

Elan Blog Post image tatianaOral tradition is defined as “a community’s cultural and historical traditions passed down by word of mouth or example from one generation to another without written instruction.” In other words, everything we know about our parents (and their parents, and their parents, etc.) we learned from stories told through what they wore, what they drew, and what they made. My mother tells me stories about the crazy 80s fashion she went to high school with, but my father tells me about growing up in east Eritrea with dirt walls and no roof. Writing these stories down lends privilege to the lives we’d otherwise forget. Textbooks take down facts, writers take down the heart.

As we close in on Élan’s 30th consecutive year in publication, it’s important to remind ourselves why we have made it this far and why we will continue to publish in the future.

Through writing, we get to see what others left behind, and through our own writings we do the same for the readers who come after us. No one was there when the world began. I will never see my mother’s crazy 80s fashion and my father’s dirt walls. We have unanswered questions about how the world began and why we’re here. We’re all born into our own reality (our own truth) that’s continuously shaped by our experiences. With each story told, we chip away at that Truth. Élan does so much more than share the works of young writers. It keeps tradition from slipping through the cracks. It shares the stories we love hearing and forces us to listen to ones we don’t.

Storytelling helps us cope with the unknown. It finds joy in those questions. Sharing our stories makes us a part of a larger one, and while we may never put our Truth into words (perhaps we were never meant to), storytelling makes that Truth accessible. In the last three decades, Élan has held onto those values. We have been a consistent, reliable, and important source of stories for the last thirty years and will continue to be so in the future

-Tatiana Saleh, Senior Layout & Design Editor

Fiction as Told By a Poet

Beautiful-Pool-with-Exotic-ViewThis year’s transition of genres was especially hard. Last year, I hardly noticed.  Moving from fiction into poetry was a prize at the end of the road. Junior year’s second semester opened the door for my voice. A voice, that in the first semester, I didn’t even know was there. And this year, I felt the hinges break off. Of course, beginning with the immersion of poetry gave me a taste I wasn’t ready to let go come January. I was scared that all of the progress I made in poetry would fall excruciatingly short in comparison to fiction.

I am unbelievably happy that I was wrong.

All that I’ve learned in since January has truly surprised me. And it hasn’t all been in the classroom either. Before this year, ideas for stories never came to mind like poems did. Whenever I go out now, I find a character in unintentional eavesdropping, a setting at a stop light, and conflict everywhere I turn. The pages in my journal now hold something other than line breaks.

Fiction, dare I say it, is beginning to feel natural.

The way I see it, poetry is a well leading to an underground reservoir. Each line plunges you farther and farther to the source, the intention, the purpose of the piece. Fiction, on the other hand, is an in-ground pool. Its depths and shallows are chosen very specifically. There’s room to swim around—even a patio to socialize and sunbathe. Fiction allows you to take your time. But in any sense, lazily. This room promotes emotional investment that poetry’s brevity sometimes prohibits.

Fiction is a second home that always reminds me of my first. The childhood house that felt like a fortress to get lost inside. Fiction is not wanting to find my way out.

-Mariah Abshire, Editor-in-Chief 

Becoming the Storyteller

jordan bp fictionWe learn the art of storytelling as children. We embellish our experiences, come up with new ones, more interesting stories to tell. This is not to be confused with lying, a not entirely separate art we master in the same time frame. Lying and storytelling serve different purposes, the latter definitely a more celebrated craft, and more enjoyable to be ensnared in.

The beauty of a story is that there is no one way to tell it, and it does not have to be your own. In reading and writing, I prefer the story behind a poem to a narrative in fiction. Longer pieces have more room to develop setting, characters, and so on through scenes. That can be done beautifully and uniquely with perspective, narrative voice, dialogue. But in poetry, the detail in describing a moment can tell a story just as vividly in a few words. I feel like there is more room for interpretation, and just enough is given to you to make the experience resonant. There is the opportunity to decide on backstory, character motivations, etc in either genre, but I feel like poetry allows the reader to feel more connected to the story. The reader becomes the storyteller to fill in the missing pieces.

I love the escapist quality of reading fiction, which is not always attainable with poetry, when the described experience becomes your own. Writing fiction remains a challenge for me since I’m so used to seeing the story in a moment. It’s hard to step back and create something full in a less confined space.

-Jordan Jacob, Junior Editor-in-Chief