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The Oral Tradition – An innovative New Haven workshop imparts the power of family storytelling


By Cindy Mindell

NEW HAVEN – Best-selling author and New York Times family columnist Bruce Feiler has some simple advice for fostering a healthy family.

“If you want a happier family, create, refine and retell the story of your family’s positive moments and your ability to bounce back from difficult ones,” he wrote in his Times “This Life” column (“The Stories that Bind Us,” March 15, 2013). “This act alone may increase the odds that your family will thrive for generations to come.”

Feiler cites the research of Drs. Marshall Duke and Robyn Fivush of Emory University, who found that children who develop the most self-confidence are those who have a strong “intergenerational self,” a sense of belonging to the larger world of family, tradition, and culture.

Toward that end, on Thursday, Feb. 11, The Graduate Institute, based in Bethany, will host “Roots and Wings: Exploring the Power of Intergenerational Stories” at Tower One/Tower East in New Haven. The interactive workshop will be facilitated by Institute faculty members Dr. Lauren Kempton and Robin Moore and is designed for grandparents, parents, and children. It is being promoted by Ezra Academy as well as by the Towers.

An award-winning professional storyteller and author based in Doylestown, Pa., Moore is coordinator of The Graduate Institute’s Oral Traditions program, which for the past decade has offered the only Master’s program in applied storytelling in the eastern U.S. The school just received approval from the Connecticut Department of Higher Education to offer an 11-month certificate program in applied storytelling, which will open in April.

Kempton, a visiting faculty member in the Oral Traditions program, is a fulltime adjunct professor of sociology at the University of New Haven and has been on faculty at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield. A teacher-educator in Holocaust curricula and former director of the Holocaust Education and Prejudice Reduction Program of Greater New Haven, Kempton speaks at Holocaust conferences around the world. In June, she presented “From Auschwitz to Fukushima: The Call of Memory” at the Auschwitz Peace Museum Japan.

Kempton recorded testimonies of Holocaust survivors for the USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, created by Steven Spielberg.

“What I learned [from that experience] was that, even if people are senior and their memories are a little hazy, they remember every detail of the Holocaust,” she says. “From 1937 to 1945, they remember what Christian families came to them and asked for food, if they had a store; they remember where they were when they had to go to the train station; they remember exactly what the mud felt like at Auschwitz under their feet.”

The Feb. 11 workshop will help participants of all ages focus on these details of memories, Kempton says, as well as learn to be good listeners.

“Another one of our goals is to honor each other’s stories,” Kempton says. “We are at a place in America where we’re not honoring too much of what others are saying. I think we need to reaffirm that being a good listener is honoring the other person’s story, and the other person listening to you is honoring, so there’s this beautiful mutual power of stories.”

Participants will learn techniques for creating and collecting family stories, as outlined in Moore’s book, Creating a Family Storytelling Tradition (August House, 2005).

Moore will lead an exercise that takes participants back into their childhood storehouse of memory as he plays the Celtic harp.

“Stories are about pictures, not about words – that’s why we call it ‘imagination,’ based on the ‘image,’” he says. “We can experience the landscape of our childhood in a visceral way, and then tell our stories that come through our senses.”

The medium is so powerful that “we are our stories,” Moore says.

“The story that you tell yourself is your reality. The good side of that is, if that is true, it means that if we can change our story, we can change our lives and our direction.”

For more information on The Graduate Institute Applied Storytelling program visit

“Roots and Wings: Exploring the Power of Intergenerational Stories,” Thursday, Feb. 11, 7-9 p.m., at Tower One/Tower East, 18 Tower Lane, New Haven. Admission is free and open to the community. For reservations and information call (203) 772-1816, ext. 150 or email

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