We began in the mountains of Colorado, were shaken alive in Haiti, found shelter in New Orleans, were embraced in Chicago, proven in Newtown, and then we traveled to Ireland. We found our way to Pennsylvania, Israel, Mexico, Massachusetts, Kentucky, Maryland, South Africa, North Carolina, Arizona, Rwanda, and now we belong, with you, everywhere.

Some of the founding members of N4 gather in Colorado.

Narrative 4 is centered in the age-old verities of the human spirit, and if there is one place that captures, or embodies, those age-old verities – love, pride, pity, compassion, violence, jealousy, difficulty, envy – it is the thumping heart of New York.

The students. The teachers. The poets. The rivers.   The bars. The tunnels.   The musicians. The bridges. The theaters. The towers. The novelists. The pioneers. The journalists. The actors. The activists. The dreamers. We are all inextricably linked – our people and our landscapes and our stories.

If an exact date were needed, it could be argued that the idea for Narrative 4 began to take shape on a cold February night in 2004 at New York University’s Glucksman Ireland House during an early celebration of the 100th anniversary of Bloomsday. Our founders, Colum McCann and Lisa Consiglio, met in a room filled with literary aficionados, including N4 honorary advisor, Roddy Doyle, and the late great Frank McCourt.

The evening bore witness to the enduring value of literature. Afterwards, they agreed to further ground the Joycean idea that the function of literature is to “recreate life out of life.”

The prologue was written: This land is your land, this land is my land.   And the enduring idea was to be affirmed in many other places:   This story is your story, this story is my story.

Narrative 4 opened up the pathways to a narrative for New York.

Every city is a city of stories. Listen, then, to the stories of New York. Listen to N4 advisors Caro Llewellyn and Mona Eltahaway, gathering up a crowd of believers in their apartments in Harlem. Listen to Colum McCann and Allison Hawke as they invite advisors to come together on the Great Lawn in Central Park to help shape the vision of the organization. Listen while Rob Spillman and Elissa Shappell open up the literary landscape of Brooklyn. Listen while author/activists like founders Reza Aslan, Greg Khalil, Tyler Cabot, Karen Hollins, Andy Sean Greer and Terry Cooper gather together in restaurants such as AG Kitchen, Harry’s Cafe and Steak and the Pink Pony, along with innovator Jordan Dann, who helped inspire what we are now.

There were late night discussions, early morning coffee meetings and plenty of sleepless nights. The ideas flowed, the vision grew, and the web of connections widened. Narrative 4 wanted to belong “everywhere” and we knew we needed to branch out.

Two of the most meaningful words in the history of Narrative 4 are deceptively small and simple: “Go Big.”

On the heels of a quiet conversation in a small New York café, Jackie and Mike Bezos agreed to support the launch of our program. They encouraged us to think universal and be unafraid.

Students from New Orleans and Port-au-Prince exchange stories in 2010

We took them literally. In Fort Duchesne. In Chicago.   In Haiti. In New Orleans.   In New York. In Dublin. In Haifa. In Port au Prince. We began, with their help, to knot the maps of the world together.

After the success of this venture, we felt that N4 had something profound to show the world – and more importantly we felt that our work was absolutely necessary.

Others who knew that we had a difficult journey ahead embraced us early on. We met with Tyler Cabot and David Granger of Esquire magazine at the famed Hearst Towers. They helped us garner both national and international attention.

And then, almost overnight, our plans were public. Tyler galvanized a cast of technology experts to build a website designed to highlight original pieces of fiction and help raise money for our nascent organization. A few weeks later, over 100 authors from all over the world had signed up to support the cause. And then – voilà — on May 28, 2013 — the website was launched and Esquire’s June issue hit the stands. The special insert was dedicated to a selection of the stories that launched Narrative 4.

We were dedicated to the ongoing nature of stories.

The magazine launched us worldwide. “The Book of Men,” published by Picador, was sold in England, Ireland, France, Korea, China, Germany and several other European countries.

treeIllustration by Matteo Pericoli

But to be at the edge means a certain willingness to jump and grow wings. And like any other young organization, we needed a group of very special people to help us maintain flight.

Everyone who has played a role in the growth of N4 is a philanthropist in the truest sense of the word. Yes, checks are written and of course it takes funding to keep our programs moving and expanding, but every gesture of support comes from someone who feels like a family member. They are close friends, not just to the organization, but to the idea of story, too.

butterfly

There is the quiet donor who walked into a coffee shop and listened, gave advice and offered shelter in the storm. She would go on to open her arms and heart to our lead advisors around the world who would come together for a game-changing summit in Connecticut.

The Bezos Family Foundation came in strong and early. They shouldered our ideas and allowed us our vision.

There is the author and philanthropist who opened her heart, her mind and her home to Narrative 4 time and again. Her family foundation cut the very first check N4 received in February of 2013 as a new and fast-tracked project of the Tides Center.

 

We were fortunate to continue our relationship with Jon Fine, who supported us with his energy and enthusiasm, as well as with repeated grants from a powerhouse company.

Our current treasurer found us by way of a beloved friend in Colorado; she and her husband would fuel the organization with their time, energy and financial support.

EsquireThe culmination of all this work came on a spring day in downtown New York City as we celebrated the public launch of Narrative 4, alongside our friends at Esquire and Picador. That same week, Narrative 4 was featured in an article by New York Times journalist Joel Lovell.

Shortly afterwards, we were back in Chicago to celebrate the programmatic launch of Narrative 4 with several of our advisors from New York in attendance. We went on to host our third annual summit in Chicago with some very special guests from around the country, including Lee Keylock, the teacher from Newtown, Connecticut who hopped on a plane just hours after giving the 2013 commencement address at Newtown High School.  Lee joined us as a volunteer. He was already keenly aware that hope and resilience can actually honor the heartbreak of the world.

While the remarkable full story of Narrative 4 Connecticut will soon be found on this website, Lee’s participation in our summit proved crucial to the evolving N4 strategy.

There have been tough breaks and uphill battles along the way, but the many successes reflect the unwavering commitment of our leaders who knew full well that public backing and publicity for a new organization is always hard won. Thanks to many of our founding members, Narrative 4 was a topic of discussion on stages, television and radio shows, and in print even before it was officially launched. On November 6, 2013, Narrative 4 took center stage at Manhattan’s Symphony Space for a Selected Shorts event featuring Terry Tempest Williams, Tea Obreht, Gabriel Byrne, Stockard Channing, Colum McCann, Corey Stoll and Rebecca Noami Jones, all who presented stories from The Book of Men. 

From left: BD Wong, Rebecca Naomi Jones, Stockard Channing, Corey Stoll, Gabriel Byrne, Tea Obreht, Colum McCann, and Terry Tempest Williams at Symphony Space.

 A few months later we took this goodwill and paid it forward in New York at a benefit designed to celebrate our progress and outline our future plans.

Then we took every penny we made and deposited it into our programs. On the heels of our fourth annual global summit, in New Haven, Connecticut, in June of 2014, Lee Keylock, our new Director of Global Programs, officially came onboard and went to work strengthening our presence in four other states. He worked alongside the ambassadors who had “graduated” from the summit — Nancy Banks, Lisa Greenbaum, Lillian de Jesus, Adam Ettlebrick, Anabel Simotas and many others. They took leadership roles as we launched our state-by-state rollout in New York on September 20th, 2014.


From left: Lisa from University Heights, Nancy from Fieldston and Lillian from University Heights post exchange at University Heights in October, 2014. Student featured: Ellis Maxwell from Fieldston.

Thirty advisors, educators, and community leaders from schools and universities all over the state joined us for our first professional development day at the Sky Gallery in Brooklyn. An incredibly diverse group of participants included student advisors, teachers, principals, assistant principals, guidance counselors and more. We partnered with other organizations such as Operation Breaking Stereotypes and the National School Climate Center. These organizations continue to use the Narrative 4 program to foster the type of fearless hope and radical empathy that creates safer and more inclusive school climates.

The new N4 ambassadors hosted story exchanges all over New York. Over fifty students participated in an inter-school story exchange on October 24, 2014 at University Heights High School. Soon after, The Calhoun School initiated a semester-long club devoted solely to Narrative 4 and storytelling, and The Dalton School in Manhattan continues to work with N4 advisor John Lombardo in South Africa.

We are transforming schools and communities. We are developing an educational curriculum, certifying our facilitators, and listening to our advisors. We want to enter all the doors that have been opened for us. Week in, week out, you will be able to see our progress and plans unfold right here on this website. We invite you to contact us if you are interested in bringing Narrative 4 to your New York community.

We look forward to our continued success in The Empire State. But before we sign off on this initial post, it is imperative that we thank one person in particular for moving us forward every single day. Even now, as we write these final words, our programs assistant, Jenessa Abrams is powering everything you see before you. We dedicate this to her spirit, determination and imagination.

If we can make it here, we can make it anywhere!


Image Credits:
(In order of appearance)
*Enormous thanks to Matteo Pericoli — www.matteopericoli.com for City, Book, Film, 2005 and  Tree, Gardenia, 2007
Main Image: Matteo Pericoli (City, Book, Film, 2005)
NYU Glucksman Ireland House
Plum TV
Unsplash.com
Matteo Pericoli (Tree, Gardenia, 2007)
Denisk0 (iStock)
Nicoolay (iStock)
NYU Glucksman Ireland House
Symphony Space/Rahav Segev.
Beowulf Sheehan
Maddie Molot