Local Arts

Storyteller sees poetry, and personal risk, in these west Charlotte stories

Hannah Hasan has long believed stories can create change. She now has a term for stories aimed at doing that work: social impact story sharing.

Hasan is a writer, spoken-word artist, speaker, performer, storyteller and artist in residence at QC Family Tree, a community-building group in Enderly Park in Charlotte. She also has, with her sister, a storytelling/consulting business.

The idea for “Muddy Turtle Talks” – whose first incarnation was last fall, and whose next is Feb. 9 – is the powerful telling of real stories about life on Charlotte’s west side. Hasan invites people to share their stories with her, and she then distills them for the stage. Community storytellers perform them.

The first evening’s stories spanned love and humor, tragedy and death. The upcoming one will focus on displacement and the loss of history and home. Ten stories are planned, Hasan says. They range from that of a young man fighting, after the death of his mother, to save a home that’s been in his family since the 1960s, to a first-time real estate investor dreaming of buying back the block, to a woman approaching 70, working full time as her rent continues to rise.

We invited her to write about what it’s like to prepare for such an evening.

Nervous doesn’t begin to describe the feeling that I felt when I clicked the green call button on my phone this morning. There was something inside of me that was hoping that she might do what I do so often: see a phone number that she didn’t recognize appear across her screen and decline.

Maybe she would send me directly to voicemail, and that would give me a chance to leave a message that might compel her to call me back. That was a scenario that made me feel a bit more at ease. Yes, every brrrrinnnnnnngggg that got me closer to voicemail lifted some of the tension bubbling in my chest.

That comfort was short-lived.

“Hello.”

I froze. She’d answered.

“Helllooo.”

I stumbled my way through an uncomfortable greeting. I explained that her grandson gave me her number and that I was working on a project that he thought she might be willing to be a part of. I told her about my work as a collector of stories, a writer and producer.

I explained that — through a process for which I’ve coined the term “social impact story sharing” — I have created a space for volunteer storytellers to learn and share true stories with a live, local audience about topics of importance to the community.

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Devin Clark at the first Muddy Turtle Talks. Hannah Hasan

I then told her that I’m currently working to help tell the stories of people from Charlotte’s Enderly Park neighborhood, specifically those who lived on and around Tuckaseegee Road. Many are being and have been impacted by forced displacement and gentrification. I went on to explain that I would like to interview her so that her story could be shared as a part of a live show in February. As I promised her that this would be a painless conversation and that I would protect her anonymity through the process, she cut me off abruptly.

“Yes. Sweetie, I get it.”

She spoke with a soft, slow, gentle familiarity that soothed my nerves. I imagined that she held her phone with hands wrinkled by years of holding and raising babies, washing dishes, and baking moist, unforgettable holiday desserts.

As she spoke for a few moments about living in one of Charlotte’s most notorious communities, I hung on her every word. My body released its anxiety about asking a stranger for their personal story, because I felt as if I was speaking to my grandmother. She had that comforting way about her. She felt like home.

That conversation reminded me why this work is so important. It’s a scary thing to experience, asking a person to divulge the most intimate moments of their life — to me — a stranger. I’m often afraid the person might question my motives, or be offended that I’m reaching out to them. But then I have moments like this morning that remind me: I’m sharing these stories because they change things.

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Brandy Alexandria at the first Muddy Turtle Talks. Hannah Hasan

This is a real, living, breathing grandmother. If she’s anything like my grandmother, she is very important to her family. She’s the keeper of family history. She’s the physical representation of the joy, pain, and everything in between that her family has lived and loved through. She is home to a lot of people, those connected by blood, and those that become family along the way. By sharing her story, she preserves the history of her home, her neighborhood and her experiences. She reminds the greater Charlotte community of what happens when those stories are not lifted, when those families are not honored, and when those communities are erased.

So, nervous or not, I am reminded that I have been given a lofty project. Interviewing neighbors, writing their stories, then working with storytellers to learn and share these stories is an important part of the process. I’m happy to do that. But watching those true, lived experiences come alive on stage, providing an opportunity for stories to expose the raw truth of systematic erasure, holding space for community members and neighbors and affirming that their stories won’t be ignored and forgotten is a golden opportunity that I’m excited to experience and honored to explore.

Admission to the evening, at Warehouse 242 (2307 Wilkinson Blvd.), is free; register here.



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