Having introduced the world to such colorful characters as a prostitute named Roxanne and a stalker who monitors “Every Breath You Take,” Sting will help launch a new Chicago-based storytelling initiative when he appears at the Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row Lit Fest next month.
The multiple-Grammy-winning solo musician and ex-Police frontman will share the stage with authors Colum McCann and Luis Alberto Urrea, who are spearheading the Narrative 4 project with former Aspen Writers’ Foundation executive director Lisa Consiglio. The program takes place June 8 at noon in the Harold Washington Library Center.
Narrative 4, an effort to foster social change through the exchange of stories, has international ambitions but is concentrating first on Chicago.
“It’s going to be like a United Nations for young storytellers so they can tell their story, feel valuable and pass their stories on to other people,” said McCann, the New York-based Irish author of the National Book Award-winning novel “Let the Great World Spin,” and next month’s follow-up, “TransAtlantic.” “I think Chicago is a great place to launch Narrative 4. It's a literary town but it has always struck me as a place that is essentially down to earth. It's a city that has always been interested in otherness. Where else could produce someone like Studs Terkel, for instance?”
Consiglio credited Urrea, the Naperville-based author of the Pulitzer non-fiction finalist “The Devil’s Highway” and the acclaimed historical novel “The Hummingbird’s Daughter,” with convincing her to base the project in Chicago instead of New York.
“I told her, ‘Look, Chicago is a place where things happen and people care,’” Urrea recalled Thursday. “We have kids who need this here right now and people who want to help those kids.”
“I came here, and one person after another opened their doors,” Consiglio said Thursday, noting that she has begun collaborating with multiple local organizations that work with young people.
Just as McCann’s latest two novels explore connections among people across oceans and time periods, so is N4 aiming to link people — in large part, students — through the sharing of stories.
“We all have stories to tell, and we all need to tell stories, and the art of the story is the most democratic thing that we have,” McCann said Thursday from Paris, where he was promoting “TransAtlantic.” “You want to expand the lungs of the world and just give people a chance to understand what it means to be other. The eventual goal of that is to develop empathy, which is sorely lacking, certainly in the political process.”
The organization’s website, narrative4.com, launches May 28, and the Lit Fest program is tied in with a feature in the June-July issue of Esquire magazine in which N4 participants — including authors Ian McEwan, Salman Rushdie and Aleksandar Hemon and actor Gabriel Byrne — write on the topic “How To Be a Man.” Sting, who is scheduled to perform at Ravinia the night of his Lit Fest appearance, is expected to discuss that theme with McCann and Urrea as well — with many high school students in attendance, McCann said.
As for whether Sting might add music to the mix, “we said he can do anything he wants,” Consiglio said. “If he brings an instrument, fantastic.”
“It's great that Sting is onboard,” McCann said. “Obviously he's a musician and an activist and a humanitarian. The common denominator here is that he is constantly telling a story.”
Beyond Lit Fest, McCann said he is hoping for a story exchange among children in Chicago and Newtown, Conn., where 26 students and teachers were killed in a school shooting in December. Also, he said, “we’re going to do an exchange between kids there in Chicago and kids in Limerick (Ireland) probably next year.”
“I hope one day that we can say that we have shared a million stories,” McCann said. “We can't put any metrics on empathy, but we can feel the way it seeps out into the world.
Tickets for the Lit Fest program, which are free but required for admission, will become available Monday to members of the Printers Row literary program and May 27 to the general public. Other authors scheduled to appear at the two-day literary festival, which runs June 8 and 9, include Judy Blume (winner of the 2013 Chicago Tribune Young Adult Literary Prize), graphic novelist/cartoonist Art Spiegelman, young adult author Blue Balliett, novelists Lauren Weisberger and Irvine Welsh, and chefs Rick Bayless, Art Smith and Fabio Viviani.
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