Teller of Tales

Jen Rubin, Storyteller

By Heather Owens | Photographed by Hillary Schave

Throughout her life, Jen Rubin was greatly influenced by close family and friends for all their community building in whatever form—including storytelling. “I’m influenced by the Hebrew phrase ‘Tikkun Olam,’ which loosely means ‘the repair of the world.’ I have been fortunate to know people for 10, 20 and even 30 years that consistently work to repair the world. Many of my friends figure out how to use their talents, energy, creativity and sense of social justice to do this work.”

Following along this path, Rubin received her master’s degree in social work from the University of Michigan and moved to Madison, where she has worked and volunteered in numerous capacities. At first glance, social work and storytelling may not seem to be related, but, according to Rubin, you need to delve through reports and determine how to tell stories in order to impact policies. She leads storytelling and writing workshops through various organizations such as the UW Odyssey Project, Arts + Literature Laboratory and Madison Public Library.

Given this line of work, she had been listening to the storytelling podcast “The Moth” for a while, then decided to look up regional sessions. The first time she ventured to a Milwaukee performance she wasn’t chosen to participate. Her second time she fared much better, receiving the highest score for the evening with a piece she would later perform in New York. She pitched the idea of having storytelling in Madison, and a year later, co-founded “The Moth” here with Alexandria Delcourt. Their first session was “Love Hurts” in February 2016.

Each month, “The Moth” has a different theme where participants (usually 10) tell a true story live in five minutes. Audience members can participate by writing a few sentences on slips of paper regarding the theme. The host for the evening will then read their comments and work the room while stories are being scored. Attendees and storytellers alike will find themselves laughing and possibly crying throughout the evening. There’s something unifying about having someone go on stage and bare part of their soul.

Aside from her work with “The Moth,” Rubin recently published the book “We Are Staying: Eighty Years in the Life of a Family, a Store, and a Neighborhood.” People sent her memories and stories of the radio repair store her family owned for decades in New York and she writes about the issues of having a family store and how much they mean to a community. No matter where you live, her advice for others is to “dig into your community, share your interests and connect with others.” And we in Madison are better for her contributions.

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