The Storytelling Lab - Ep50: Stories of the South with Shirlette Ammons
It’s our 50th episode and we’ve got a special guest for you! This week we’re joined with Shirlette Ammons, Poet, Musician, Producer, and native Eastern North Carolinian, to discuss something near and dear to our hearts: Stories of the South. We dive into the multifaceted world of Southern food, culture, and music & discuss how to tell authentic stories of the people and places we love.
I grew up in a poor, rural part of eastern North Carolina.
The South, and country-folk in general, often gets labeled as being behind the times, closed-minded, stuck in their ways, bigoted, and plain old ignorant.
And I’ll be honest. Sometimes it is.
We, as southerners, have a lot of work to do to combat our poverty, our health, and our regressive tendencies.
But as someone who grew up in the South and has seen all angles and sides of this beautiful region, I know that we are more complex.
As a storyteller, who is proud to be where I am from, I feel it is my duty to share the stories of the beautiful parts of the South to
Show the world that we are not a binary “good” or “bad” (no place is)
To help the area I love so much continue to evolve
This week on my show, I spoke to someone who shares the same sentiment.
Shirlette Ammons is a musician, poet, and filmmaker, who is “southern, black, queer, and country,” as she so perfectly put it. She has spent her life embracing and sharing her unique experience in the rural South, instead of running from it like many others seem to.
I admire that and strive to be the same way.
Most recently, Shirlette joined the team at Markay Media, Cynthia Hill’s Durham-based production company responsible for shows such as the Emmy-winning A Chef’s Life and their most recent PBS show, Somewhere South.
Both shows explore unique perspectives on the south through the lens of food culture.
And as another storyteller from eastern North Carolina, I couldn’t be prouder of the work Shirlette, Cynthia, and the team at Markay Media are doing.
If we are ever going to change the narrative of what it means to be from the South, we need to continue telling these types of stories.
“As a black southern storyteller I recognize that quite often I’m in the position of telling stories that have never had the opportunity to be told…”
I know the power of storytelling well and I know that everyone has stories that deserve to be told.
Hell, that’s one of the best things about the South.
But in our society, we have historically not given those stories a chance to be heard on a larger scale. We’ve either muffled them, or failed to amplify them.
Now, in the age of digital media, we have a chance to correct that. We have a chance to share untold stories that may shape the way our society progresses.
As Shirlette says,
“Quite often, the voices that are not exalted, the voices that are in these really isolated places, have something very unique to say.”
The world is complex and we love to recognize why we are different from other people -- where the lines and categories are. It’s Us vs Them. And we are suffering from it.
Everybody is upset, because everybody is hurting, because everybody yearns for belonging.
It’s a part of being human.
This is exactly what Shirlette and the Markay Media team are addressing in their new show, Somewhere South. It shows different southern cultures that have very similar versions of the same foods, and highlights the different approaches, techniques, or ingredients included.
We are far more alike than we are different. But our differences should be celebrated.
It's our differences that make our world, our regions, and our cultures so beautifully unique.
I wholeheartedly believe that if we continue to share these untold stories, we will be able to see how similar and different we all are. And we'll be able to celebrate both!
I think that is the way forward.
If you want to understand how to tell authentic stories of the people and places we love,
this episode shows you why sharing those stories is imperative!
Some highlights from our conversation:
Shirlette’s work as a producer on A Chef’s Life
Being a part of the triangle community
The Eastern North Carolina community: sharing unique stories
How Shirlette got into the Durham poetry & hip hop scene
Why Shirlette was inspired to share personal stories
What Shirlette loves about Eastern NC
Stereotypes of the south
Being drawn to film
Thinking about story as genre defying
Tobacco Money Feeds My Family: Relationships with tobacco in Eastern NC
Giving people who are the most affected the voice to tell their own story
Discussing multiculturalism in the south: the south is not monolithic
Defining who you are in a diverse way
Representing people authentically when including them in your film
Being a good listener & knowing how to step back when someone else has an important story to tell
The best storytellers know how to be authentic
Using connections you already have
The workflow of creating a cooking show
Food and music as the great connectors
People always focus on how different we are. It’s good to also think about how similar we are
Everyone has a story
Taking care of other people’s stories
Celebrating different forms of knowledge
Make space for people to tell their own stories
Nobody likes talking heads
Getting back into the music space
How we can best capture stories: Just do it!
Stories are endangered as people get older. It’s important to get these stories down on paper or record them in some way.
Being able to listen to the stories of those that you love
Don’t be afraid to call up your family members and ask them to share their stories with you
As always, I hope you enjoy the episode!
Peace and Love,
Follow Shirlette on Twitter @shirletteammons
And learn more about her work at shirletteammons.com
For more storytelling tips and tricks,
Follow us on Instagram @sixsecondstories
Visit our website sixsecondstories.com