The Radical Act of Community Storytelling

Why did I, a fifty-eight-year-old visual artist, decide to take on a small project that turned into a thriving nonprofit storytelling organization? What challenges did I face, and how did I survive them? In The Radical Act of Community Storytelling: Empowering Voices in Uncensored Events, I share my journey of joys, frustrations, and single-minded determination. 

Not knowing what you are getting into can sometimes be an asset. When I began my odyssey in community storytelling in 2004, I loved the concept but had no experience creating an organization or putting on a show. I learned the hard way (and the fun way) all aspects of producing and sustaining a monthly event. Along the way, I learned that profound changes occur when we tell and listen to each other’s stories, how a simple act can build community, dispel prejudices, foster creativity, and help heal.

The Radical Act is a how-to memoir with a twist of advocacy for the democratic act of allowing everyone to tell their story. Through a step-by-step discovery process, the reader learns the ins and outs of creating an ongoing community event. The book is packed with practical tips and plenty of inspirational stories.

Buy my book

Published by Parkhurst Brothers Publishing, 2017. The book is available at Antigone Books in Tucson. The book and the eBook ($10.99) are also available at Amazon (foreign sales are best through a local bookseller or Amazon).

Read what they are saying

As a fellow producer of storytelling shows, I’m constantly impressed with Penelope Starr’s passion, curiosity, organization, and desire to better her community by bringing people together. This book is a godsend for everyone who catches the storytelling bug and wants to get involved. Not only will you learn tips and strategies for producing a show and making stories more dynamic, you’ll be inspired by Starr’s personal journey as well. She smartly puts her own story into the larger story, which is really what it’s all about, right?
In The Radical Act of Community Storytelling, Penelope Starr has given the storytelling world more than a road map for how to create and produce community storytelling events. It is a map with countless number of “insets” with both detailed how-to information, and marvelous stories that support what she has gleaned from 10 years of research and experience. Penelope’s generous spirit also offers dozens of forms and lists that become the ultimate guide for anyone wishing to produce storytelling events that feed the community.
In The Radical Act Of Community Storytelling Penelope Starr beautifully describes how she came to be enchanted by storytelling and how she created Odyssey Storytelling, a thriving community treasure in Tucson, Arizona. Penelope has penned a terrific primer for those inspired to raise their own voices and create their own community storytelling and, of course, a wonderful collection of unforgettable stories. Penelope is an evangelist for storytelling who preaches that truth is not simply stranger than fiction, it is more joyful, it is more compelling and it is more radically profound.
David Fitzsimmons
Nationally syndicated political cartoonist, columnist for the Arizona Daily Star
The Radical Act of Community Storytelling reveals the gutsy nature of Penelope Starr who creates a space for others to find and reveal their own gutsiness in front of a live audience. She is an evangelist to her faith in storytelling, which changes the lives of the storyteller as well as those captured by the stories being told. More than a “how to”, Penelope takes the reader on an odyssey of “how it was”…do as you please!
DIana Leonard
PhD; Author, Introduction to the Speech Making Process; Director of Public Speaking, The University of Arizona
Everyone’s got a story and Penelope Starr lays the foundation and shares a successful concept –step by step– that encourages any and all kinds of storytelling by creating a venue for communities which she calls Odyssey Storytelling. “It’s a place were everyday folks, with different life experiences, joys and sorrows, have a voice.” Who wouldn’t want such a place? The Radical Act of Community Storytelling, tell your story, and enable others to tell theirs.
Our communities become better when we listen to each other’s stories. It builds empathy. It helps us feel connected. We are so hungry for this. We all know it. The trouble is, where and how does it happen in an organized way? Penelope Starr has successfully created and nurtured a community of storytellers and story listeners in Tucson, AZ. In this honest, detailed and humorous book, she gives us the real behind-the-scenes story of what it’s like to organize these events as well as shares the important logistics of how she did it- the stuff that we rarely think about when we attend these events. Penelope Starr believes live storytelling can and ought to be done in more communities. And she is doing her part to help make it happen. This is more than a story. It’s a go-to guide for how we can all create more spaces for storytelling in our world.
When I moved from New York City to Tucson, I missed performing for The Moth… until I found the Odyssey Storytelling show founded by Voices Uncensored author Penelope Starr. In this fun and easy read, Starr breezes through Odyssey’s origin story, detailing the work of putting it all together and highlighting the pay-off: the startling beauty and communal empowerment that emerge when an ordinary person picks up the mic to share a story. Starr provides an inspiration to would-be story show organizers, so hopefully other towns and cities will soon have what Tucson has had for 13 years, a time each month to put aside our day-to-day lives and collectively puzzle our way through the essential human story.
Molly McCloy
Three-time NYC Moth StorySLAM winner
More than just a how-to manual for apprentice producers and curators, Voices Uncensored: The Radical Act of Community Storytelling is itself a collection of stories. Penelope has artfully woven amusing anecdotes and cautionary tales into her DIY guide to illustrate, step by step, the process of developing a successful event. Even if you have no interest in producing events, you can’t help but laugh, cringe, worry, wonder, and celebrate right along with the author as she stumbles through creating Odyssey Storytelling, now one of America’s longest-running monthly community storytelling series.
C. Michael Woodward
MPH - author, consultant, and conference director
The Radical Act of Community Storytelling is everything it claims in the title. It is the story of a radical step faith taken by Penelope Starr to open her life by bringing community storytelling to her community. It is the story of voices that often go unheard having the opportunity to speak and be heard. And it is about community building from start to finish–including everything any radical would need to start a community storytelling organization in any community.
Adam Hostetter
Adult literacy educator, writer, and community storytelling producer
Penelope Starr writes in the intimate voice of a friend with such humor and vitality that you want to hang out with her beyond the length of this excellent read. Even if your own passion has little to do with producing a story-telling event, you’ll want to finish Starr’s exhilarating story about creating connection, acceptance of the “other,” and growing compassionate community through the brave and sometimes radical act of telling your story.
The Radical Act of Community Storytelling is the compelling narrative of how Penelope Starr succeeded in engaging others to join with her in creating a unique and powerful community storytelling institution in Tucson. With humility, humor, delightful anecdotes, and concrete action steps, she sets down a path for others to follow. Excellent read and great how-to book, including check lists and forms to aid you on your own journey!
Ever since ancient tribes have gathered around the fire, storytelling has been a vital part of building community. Everything you need to know about creating a community storytelling experience is included in this “how to” manual with a heart. The heart of the founder of Odyssey Storytelling, Penelope Starr, and the author of this compelling multi-genre book, has provided all the relevant information in an entertaining and evocative style. Whether you consider yourself a “community activist” or a “wanna-be” this book offers an insider’s view of a complex process of community organizing made simple, and FUN. That’s the bottom line here. In her own words: “This is my legacy. Creating for the pure fun of it.” If you are looking for a change in. your life, or an opportunity to do something with meaning and purpose you’ll discover a gold mine of inspiration and insight to find a way to tell your own story.
Penelope Starr clearly states that her intention is to provide an easy-to-understand and thorough guide for people who would like to start a successful storytelling venue. While she has accomplished this objective to perfection, I think The Radical Act of Community Storytelling has tremendous value far beyond the world of storytelling. I believe the underlying power of her book is one of courage, inspiration and support – a playbook if you will – of what it takes for anyone with a dream to stay on a path and keep moving through uncertainty until the magic happens. Penelope’s writing is refreshing, sincere and honest: the ideal combination for a “How To” book. Best of all, for folks who have a dream and little or no budget, The Radical Act of Community Storytelling clearly outlines how a determined person with a goal can sidestep many financial roadblocks of a project by being open and willing to engage others while believing that everything will eventually work out. Storytellers, concert producers, festival organizers, special event directors and organizations looking to create a public performing opportunity for their community need to read Penelope’s book. If you are looking for a roadmap on how to get things done. THIS IS IT!