There was a tension in the air at first; a roomful of adults in a children’s art room, timidly introducing themselves over paint splattered tables. They had gathered for the inaugural event for Our Common Thread: a new kind storytelling event with an intimate “speed dating” format where attendees shared true stories about their lives with multiple partners. MALS student Casey Carpenter co-founded the event. He believes storytelling has a powerful role in building community.
Carpenter grew up just outside of Chicago in Westmont, Illinois. He earned a BS in Philosophy at Missouri Western State University before joining the United States Air Force (USAF). While in the services he earned a MSc in International Humanitarian Affairs, and it was during his training in Germany that he found a passion for literature, especially the classics. Whether reading Dostoevsky in his barracks or Dickens on a cargo plane, he came to appreciate what can be done with a story.
Carpenter believes that literature and storytelling are tied. Both use a story to step outside of every day existence and use narrative to “develop meaning and value.”
While stationed in Anchorage, Alaska, Carpenter sought out local opportunities to get outside of his USAF bubble. He volunteered as a story coach for Alaska Story Works where he worked with local high school students, as part of their English curriculum, and helped them to develop stories. Carpenter observed students who struggled socially find strength through storytelling. He also saw how hearing other students’ stories fostered understanding and acceptance in the class. "With a story, you can develop empathy in ways that you can’t otherwise,” he says.
Months after Carpenter moved to Lebanon, New Hampshire to begin the MALS program, he met poet Gavin Wynkoop-Fischer and the two quickly bonded over their love for storytelling. They decided to start Our Common Thread “to foster resilience and build community through storytelling.”
The soft opening for Our Common Thread was in June 2019 at the AVA Gallery in Lebanon. After those first timid introductions, participants at the event - the author included - found joy in meeting a new person, sharing a story from their life to an audience of one, and then receiving a story from this person as well. Storytellers noted that they had the opportunity to engage with someone who they may never met outside the event due to their ages, hometowns, and life paths. Afterwards, the group headed to a nearby pub to continue their conversations and share more stories. It turned out that the post-event gathering was most people’s favorite part. “We didn’t expect that,” Carpenter said. It was likely inevitable that the social gathering would be so joyful though. “Telling stories takes away barriers and allows for authentic communication.”
A second Our Common Thread event was held in July 2019; the co-founders see this as an iterative process and hope to expand the event in the community.
At both events, Carpenter has enjoyed seeing people from different backgrounds engaging in storytelling, “The memory that keeps coming to mind," he says, "is seeing a young man in college engaged in conversation with a retired woman in her seventies. You don’t see that kind of connection in day-to-day interactions.”