Storytelling Origins This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

September 28, 2013
After years of suppression, and tip-toeing around the classic sleepover question, “what’s something you’ve never told ANYONE,” I’m ready to admit my best-kept secret:

I was once a book thief.

Yes, it’s true – I’d steal books from their respective shelves in my elementary school’s library and hide them behind the dusty dictionaries. I didn’t choose the booknapping life. Rather, those unwavering librarians and their “one-book-only” rule forced me into it. I had too many worlds to peruse and characters to befriend for that irksome rule, and I certainly could not risk losing my next adventure to the endless pit that was the Ben Franklin library. Thus the thievery began…

My hideout was very rarely noticed; most books didn’t stay in my captivity for more than three months and only two were permanently hidden. These included Grandpa’s Ghost Stories and Maps & Globes.

Grandpa’s Ghost Stories was the first book that my hands fell upon when I reached behind the dictionaries. To my ten-year-old mind, this was the most bizarre story I had ever read. The beautiful, macabre drawings perplexed me, and the storyline’s jumbled weirdness intrigued me. I had never been taught how to consume a book such as this, and figuring out what certain words and images meant was half the fun of reading it. To this end, Grandpa’s Ghost Story was my first permanent captive because it taught me the words “banshee” and “inconceivable,” and, consequently, that not every sentence needed such a word to seem sophisticated.

To the left of Grandpa’s Ghost Stories hid my magical friend, Maps & Globes. The picture book was truly magical in two ways – one: it managed to transform war torn countries like the Congo into paradises simply by picturing little children grinning with their self-proclaimed best friends (usually goats); and two: it transported me across the globe. With my nose inches from its pages, I recited cultural sayings and songs, studied traditional Tanzanian folklore, and feasted on oriental art.

Those thirty minutes went by ferociously fast.

At the end of Library Time, I’d tuck my captives away once more and rejoin my friends at the entrance with a new book in hand. “Where’d you go?” They’d always ask. And I would respond with a nonchalant, “Oh, nowhere.”

Then I’d strut back to class, exhilarated by my booknapping secrecy.

Since those first literary immersions, I’ve never stopped preparing for a career in storytelling. I’ve crafted news stories for a dragon-themed newspaper and elaborate nine-year-old lies for my mother. I’ve lost sleep over potential film concepts and subsequently lost my mind trying to remember those late-night ideas. I’ve recounted experiences to NYU film professors and listened to friends from California and India discus their religious beliefs. I have designed sets, adventured abroad, animated musical notes, preserved time in black and white, and poured bottles of corn syrup over a friend for the sake of a music video.

I could end up a screenwriter, an animator, a journalist, a filmmaker, or a National Geographic documentarian. I could end up winning a Pulitzer or an Oscar, or earning a PhD exploring the story of humanity. Whatever the outcome, one thing will never change: I’ll always be a storyteller at heart.

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