Finding Chenjerai The Storyteller

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When someone sits down to narrate a story, they’re commonly given the following advice: imagine you’re just talking to one person.

Makes sense, right? Because how often do people listen to radio stories and podcasts in a group? Not very often. Usually, people listen alone.

I tend to give a slightly different recommendation when I’m coaching in a mic booth. I suggest the narrator should picture themselves talking to two or three people at a time — people they know who asked them to tell a story. That typically causes the narrator to bring a bit more energy to the mic.

Regardless of whether a narrator pictures one person or three, the guidance is intended to help someone sound conversational and like themselves, as opposed to, say, a newscaster or someone delivering a speech to a crowded auditorium.

But, the advice prompts a question: who are those people?

Chenjerai Kumanyika asked himself this very question — “Who am I talking to?” — for his Peabody Award-winning podcast Uncivil and while he was participating in the production of the podcast Seeing White, a series on Scene On Radio (a Peabody finalist). “Who am I talking to?” is just one of many questions he asked over several years in an attempt to find his voice, to locate “Chenjerai the storyteller.”

On this episode of HowSound, Chenjerai traces his journey from his first-ever radio story, where he had no idea who he was as a storyteller, to his work on Uncivil, where he says he finally found himself.

I didn’t include Chenjerai’s thoughts on audience in this episode. But here they are below. In the first clip, Chenjerai lays out who he pictured when he was recording his narration. In the second, he gives a specific example of how that impacted his narration in an Uncivil episode called “The Raid” (the episode that won the Peabody).

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Listen to “Picturing audience informed my narration”

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