Dispatches from the Moth · Posted On: Aug 16, 2023

Storytelling School with The Moth: Monthly Storytelling Activity: ​Lesson #59: In Their Own Words: The Moth Storytelling workshop experience

by August Selvaggio

This month’s Storytelling School post was written by guest author and Moth Story Lab alum, August Selvaggio! August first joined The Moth through our All Country program (now called The Moth Story Lab Virtual) in the Spring of 2022 as a 10th Grader. From Rhode Island, August will graduate from high school in 2024. 


Last Spring, during my Sophomore year of high school, I participated in The Moth Education Program’s virtual All Country youth storytelling workshop (now called ‘Moth Story Lab)’. The biannual program is open to 10th-12th graders across America each year, and provides young people with the chance to learn and practice the art of storytelling.

I heard about the program from an English teacher at my school, but I had been familiar with The Moth for much longer, since my mom and I have bonded over National Public Radio weekend shows for as long as I can remember. So, of course I jumped at the opportunity to apply, and once I was accepted, my mom and I were equally excited and proud.

Writing has always been my passion, so I figured that The Moth would be an excellent place for me to enhance my writing abilities as I engaged with the process of crafting a story. Throughout my childhood, as I had listened to The Moth with my mom, I had envisioned the story that I might tell on a Moth stage– at times, I had even tried my hand at writing scripts of my own story. Therefore, I was already imagining the story I would write during my first Zoom meeting, but this fantasy was cut short soon into the meeting, when my Instructor proclaimed six shocking words: “This is not a writing workshop.” They then went on to explain the rules of Moth storytelling: each story must be true, and told live, without notes, and we would be telling our stories with the same guidelines in place.

Initially, I was hesitant about this idea. How could I tell a story without writing it down, and reading from a script? Writing was a central part of my identity, and the main method through which I told stories about myself. When I imagined telling a story without the safety of a script, I felt naked. However, as I engaged with the Moth storytelling process, I soon found that this rule, which I had feared would serve as an obstacle to my storytelling, was solely an asset. I gained an appreciation for the candidness that emerges from telling stories live. The adherence to a time limit, reliance on memories, and authentic voice (which are all central to live storytelling) allows narrators to refine their stories to only the richest, most meaningful details. It helps us to quickly discern the aspects of our experiences which stand out to us as most pithy and personal.

This is not to say that storytelling with The Moth is unstructured, or unrehearsed–– throughout our meetings, we continually practiced telling our stories in front of our instructors, who provided thoughtful feedback and encouragement after each round. Through this process, I soon learned true storytelling runs deeper than a flaunty vocabulary. It is about connecting with yourself and your memories. This grounding in personal experience has become my favorite thing about storytelling, and has also made me a much better writer. I am so thankful that The Moth has taught me how to reflect, and esteem each of my experiences as a worthwhile, shareable story.

I highly recommend The Moth Story Lab program to all young people who are interested in learning more about themselves, and the world. It is, in all senses of the word, inviting— from its thoughtful mentorship, to its formulaic structure, and its ability to connect young people to others who are similarly eager to learn the value of personal experiences. The Moth will help you to understand why your stories matter, not only to others, but to yourself as well.

If you’re interested in joining The Moth Story Lab either virtually or in-person this fall, applications open on August 25th here

Share this post with a friend!

And check back the second Tuesday of every month for another post.

The Moth Education Program works with young people and educators to build community through storytelling workshops, performances and innovative resources.

We are always looking for more young people and educators to join our storytelling workshops!  To learn more, apply for a workshop, or refer someone you know, please go to themoth.org/education

Check out The Moth’s new podcast, GROWN- hosted by Alumni from The Moth’s Education Program and featuring stories about what it means to grow up. Read more and listen here or wherever you get your podcasts!

The Moth Education Program is made possible by generous support from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association Charitable Trust, the Kate Spade New York Foundation, and Alice Gottesman, and The Paul & Phyllis Fireman Charitable Foundation.

Additional program support is provided by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the New York State Council on the Arts, ConEdison, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.