Posted January 4th 2012 at 11:15 pm by
in Featured Contributor

A Conversation with Dayna Cunningham


Why do you blog?

I blog because I love short nonfiction. I love reading blog posts. I love the spirit, the culture and the feel of CoLab Radio. It inspires me to write.

What I love most about the site is that it captures the human thread that runs through everything — the individual stories that often get lost in a major event or a big city planning project. The traditional news coverage on the earthquake in Japan didn’t compare to the story Shoko Takemoto, a CoLab Radio contributor, wrote about trying to get to her grandmother’s house after the quake. A story like that is what makes the earthquake real.

Personally, I want a place where I can share some of my immediate experiences. It is so satisfying to write a blog post for CoLab Radio, especially after a profound event.

Could you describe a time that you blogged after having a profound experience?

I was in Oakland, Calif. when the Oscar Grant verdict was announced. I was sitting alone in my hotel room, preparing for dinner, when I heard on the news that the cops who shot and killed Grant in a subway station got away with involuntary manslaughter rather than murder. I burst into tears; it struck a raw nerve in me. Oscar Grant’s story is one that every mother of a black son dreads: That your son will be consumed by violence, and that his life will not matter.

I didn’t know what else I could do about it, so I started a blog post. I thought, “A lot of black mothers, and maybe other mothers too, are in deep pain right now.” I wanted a place to record this thought and explain it, at least to myself, in a way that would resonate with others.

It was satisfying to do that. Earlier in the evening, my equally dismayed colleagues had encouraged me to write a post. It was comforting and cathartic to be able to put all that down, to press send, and know that it wasn’t just going into my Word file.

Is there potential in this form of storytelling?

I have a three-part answer to this question. My first answer is influenced by something a friend of CoLab told us: She gets to work every morning, opens CoLab Radio, reads a tidbit and then goes about her day. That tells me that people want these stories

Second is what our web stats tell us: People like reading stories about solutions to problems that other people are trying, even if the solution is new and unproven. The point is that someone is trying something new.

Third is what I know from experience: Humans are natural storytellers. I recently presented at a conference, and I told the story of two different projects we’re trying. Afterwards, so many people said, “thank you for your story.” It was almost like I had given them a gift.

When you put these things together, I think it’s powerful. Non-fiction storytelling about experiences of change — hands-on, direct, first-person engagement with change and innovation — is powerful. Storytelling is fundamental to the human spirit. When you combine it with important and useful information about ways in which people can improve their communities, it is extraordinary.

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