One Book One Northwestern event brings NU students, faculty and community together for intergenerational storytelling


Kimberly Espinosa/ Daily Senior Staffer

The 2023 One Book Annual Intergenerational Storytelling Event invited Northwestern students, faculty and community members to share their personal stories through narratives.

Kimberly Espinosa, Photo Editor

The 2023 One Book Annual Intergenerational Storytelling Event invited young and senior adults to the Norris University Center to share their stories. The Tuesday evening event centered the idea that a story is the shortest path for people to build connections.

Storytellers ranged from Northwestern students to community members from the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. The School of Professional Studies established OLLI in 1987 to bring together learners from all walks of life to a space where learning is encouraged for pleasure without the pressure of grades. 

Since 2017, OLLI and OBON have hosted intergenerational storytelling events together, according to OBON director Nancy Cunniff.

School of Communication Prof. Rives Collins introduced storytellers at the event. The curricula he teaches focuses on storytelling as an artform. 

“I hope people will realize that everyone has a story to tell,” Collins said. “I hope that in this room there will be young people who will see themselves as seekers of stories. That’s the work that can fuel artists, writers (and) community organizers.”

Geneva Norman, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion vice chair of OLLI’s Chicago Chapter, joined the event as a storyteller.

Norman’s bilingual story — told in English and Spanish — began with singing and continued with anecdotes that highlighted her journey as the oldest medical student in her class. She said she faced challenges because of a lack of resources, but unlike other peers was already a registered nurse practitioner while she was studying.

“Working was … discouraged by the college. However, staying alive was a little more important to me,” Norman said as she continued telling her story. “So work I did.”

She continued by sharing her experiences working with Latine patients and reflecting on her relationship to the Latine community, which one particular patient deepened, she said.  

The patient, whose blood sugar levels were too high, needed insulin but could not afford it, Norman recalled. However, the patient passed away because they could not access health care.

Norman said no person, regardless of immigration status, should be denied adequate medical help. 

To conclude her story, she sang a song to honor the people she mentioned, including the patient. 

After every storyteller shared a story, Collins welcomed audience members to show their appreciation for them. Some expressed thanks to those who presented for the way their energy, descriptive narration and vulnerability brought stories to life.

“To have elders join us is special for college students,” Collins said. “College students bring a spark into the room for the elders that are together.”

After participants who signed up to share a story presented, others were invited to join as well.

Paul Arnston, who teaches in the School of Communication, said he prefers to use his first name to disrupt the hierarchy that can exist in academia. At the event, Paul shared his background with storytelling.

“My students have always taught me more than I have taught them,” Paul said. “How have they done that? By collective stories.”

Paul highlighted the importance of a person having agency in telling their own story and emphasized that storytelling is a reciprocal process.

Communication junior Sophie Brown also participated in the event as a storyteller. Though she has engaged in storytelling before as a theatre student, she had not previously participated in intergenerational storytelling.

“I think everyone has such great stories to share,” Brown said. “It’s such a great opportunity to listen to them.”

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