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

Writing Like Me

james-baldwin-the-fire-next-timeAuthenticity: n. The quality of being authentic; genuineness

On my first day of Senior Fiction, my teacher asked me to write down my personal definition of this word. For a Monday, starting my final semester as a senior in high school, I thought this was pretty heavy duty thinking. But after sitting at my computer, watching my cursor disappear and reappear a million –well, more like seventeen- times.

To me, being authentic is what babies are: one-hundred percent human, one-hundred percent embedded in their emotions—what they feel precisely in a singular moment— and completely uninhibited by what others do. If a baby wants to cry, no amount of food or rocking or begging on one knee will stop them from being heard. That’s what telling an authentic story is like to me.

While reading James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, I found myself fluctuating between two extreme emotions: awe (the man is a philosophical genius and an incredible wordsmith) and a high level of uncomfort. One of my favorite quotes from this book is “The person who distrusts himself has no touchstone for reality—for this touchstone can be only oneself.” It is always my greatest fear that I won’t tell a story honest, that I’ll sugarcoat a character or over exaggerate the plot.

Doubt is the number one killer of good writing and after four years of trying to find my own voice in my writing I completely understand why. To doubt your writing is to, by extension, doubt a part of yourself. There is no greater justice to telling a story than by telling it how you see fit for it to be told, and this is the best way to be sure that you will be proud of what you produce. To be authentic is tell all parts of a story— the beautiful, the ugly, the stuff your mother should never know about.

And in the end, that— the moment when you no longer fear what your voice has to say— is one of the most defining moment of a writers’ life.

-Shamiya Anderson, Nonfiction Editor