The lost art of verbal storytelling

Clayton J. Hester
6 min readJun 10, 2022

My uncle was known for always having a story. He knew many, many people in his days of cruising around in his old pickup truck.

Sure, there were exaggerations here and maybe embellishments there.

But there was a beauty and rhythm to the introduction, setup, climax and the laughter that ensued.

Where’s today’s raconteur, the life of the party?

Do we gather together anymore to join in listening to stories by the fireside?

Is it just a sentimental idea I’m appealing to?

Well before cell phones and TV screens were disrupting spaces of engagement like the supper table or the living room, architects were trying to construct ways to draw people together.

Consider how modernist architects conversation pit.

Though not necessarily the creator of this design, Eero Saarinen (who we Missourians can thank for one little landmark of his) designed a home in which the living room was sunken, with seating arranged around a central fireplace. The idea was that by situating people in this way, they would be more likely to interact with one another and have meaningful conversations.

While the conversation pit didn’t quite catch on as a mainstream trend unfortunately, it’s a perfect example of how our physical environment can influence the way we interact with one another.

One could dig much more into this type of design that’s meant to help promulgate good habits, and one day I might just do that.

In today’s world, where we are increasingly isolated from one another both physically and emotionally, it’s more important than ever to create opportunities for connection. And what better way to do that than through the power of oral storytelling?

Singer Tom T. Hall made a career in songwriting out of the stories he could tell about meeting different people, and the different situations they were in. “Old Dogs and Children and Watermelon Wine” records a conversation between Hall and an old African American man who begins to muse about the important things in life. “Who’s Gonna Feed Them Hogs” tells the story of an old farmer who frets over the fate of his livestock as he’s stuck in the hospital.

Clayton J. Hester

Country boy. Explorer of the creative process & life, the arts, storytelling, innovation and history of ideas. Omnia in gloriam Dei facite —