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Moth Storytelling Group Wins $750,000 MacArthur Grant

By Julie Shapiro | February 20, 2012 1:24pm

EAST VILLAGE — The Moth is celebrating its own story this week after winning a $750,000 MacArthur Foundation grant.

The New York-based storytelling organization will use the funds to preserve its extensive audio and video archive — including footage of Malcolm Gladwell, Annie Proulx, Al Sharpton and many others — and will also launch a weekly radio show, said Joan Firestone, The Moth's executive director.

"As The Moth celebrates its fifteenth anniversary, this award will enable us to take the organization to an exciting next level, reaching an even wider audience through our radio show  while preserving our vast archives for future generations,"  Firestone said in a statement,

The Moth Radio Hour currently produces just 10 episodes a year but has developed a wide following and is carried by more than 250 stations.  Thanks to the grant, the show will begin running weekly from January 2013, Firestone said.

Since its founding in 1997, The Moth has put on hundreds of storytelling events around the world, where everyone from celebrities to everyday people tell their true tales of love, hardship and life-changing moments. The storytellers speak to standing-room-only audiences without notes, describing personal experiences that often leave listeners laughing or in tears — and sometimes both.

"We're presenting stories that otherwise never would be heard to mass audiences," Catherine Burns, The Moth's artistic director, said in an online video.

"It gives a sense of what it's like to walk in someone else's shoes…. We've forgotten how to listen to each other, and listening is crucial."

Poet George Dawes Green launched The Moth in his New York City living room 15 years ago, seeking to recreate the magic of the summer evenings he spent in his native Georgia listening to his friends spin tales.

The intimate gatherings soon grew far beyond Green's apartment and even the city, as the nonprofit expanded to offer storytelling workshops in underserved communities, in addition to the ticketed live events.

The Moth was one of 15 groups in six countries to win the MacArthur Foundation's prestigious Award for Creative and Effective Institutions this year.

The only other New York group to receive a grant was the Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy at New York University, which got $1 million.