Nerdcon: Stories: A Review

At first thought, many people would not consider themselves storytellers, or even interested in stories. But as NerdCon: Stories proved to me – we are surrounded by, and are made of, stories. Conceived by Hank Green of Vlogbrothers fame, NerdCon: Stories, in short, was meant “to be a celebration of the story, and the ways we tell stories, and the people who tell stories, which is really all of us” (Hank Green). Stories are powerful tools in which we communicate messages that cannot be told, only experienced.

As the first NerdCon ever, the convention was quite small in size – covering three auditoriums for panels and three rooms for vendors and signings – but that by no means diminished its value or entertainment. As was mentioned at the beginning of the 2-day convention, no one really knew what NerdCon was, or what it would be, and it was up to how the attendees interacted with the panelists and the convention itself that would determine what kind of culture would emerge. Attendees ranged from young professionals like myself, to students, English teachers, amateur writers, older couples and devoted fans of the speakers. There was a very palpable air of excitement as no one knew what to expect, but all were ready to have a good time.

I admit before I arrived to NerdCon, I was afraid that the event would be…less than engaging, boring even. But it was a silly thought, as I soon realized that every single speaker and panelist was an expert storyteller, and they all knew how to engage and entertain. Just as stories can cover a wide range of topics and styles, the panelists included a wide-array of people, ranging from authors of science fiction to romance to popular fiction, podcasters and voice actors, game-makers, musicians, video creators, and even a puppet-wrangler. Our culture is immersed in storytelling, especially the visual kind. People sit in movie theatres for hours just to watch a story, Youtube bloggers share their live in episodic installments, and commercials tell stories in a minute or less. While NerdCon fully acknowledged the visual mediums of video, the focus was on the less mainstream storytelling mediums – the play, the audio drama, the song, and yes, even the mundane book – which not only allowed people to be exposed to stories, but to experience stories.

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Rapid Fire Q&A w/ Lev Grossman, Stephanie Perkins, Téa Obreht, The Giant Squidstravaganza, Joseph fink, John Moe, Mara Wilson, John Scalzi and Rainbow Rowell

Mainstage events featured a great mix of thought-provoking prompts and entertaining games, showcasing the power of stories to make us laugh, cry, empathize and internalize. Even science played a role in the art of storytelling, with Hank green and Ben Lillie discussing great stories in science and Storm DiCostanzo‘s presentation on the un-quantifiable value of stories. Speakers gave presentations on the topic of “Why Stories Matter,” with each speaker taking his or her unique perspective on the prompt, revealing just how important stories influence us, and how we influence stories. We laughed with Paul Sabourin as he comedically traced the history of storytelling, marveled with Desiree Burch as she improvised a speech that explained that the personal story was the most powerful story, and empathized with Ana Adlerstein as she shared the bitter lesson that “everyone has their reasons.”

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Panel: Telling the Truth (Hank Green, Nalo Hopkinson, Paolo Bacigalupi, Jacqueline Woodson, Leslie Datsis, Ana Adlerstein)

While many of these guests were not the most famous of people, all of them were quite well known within their genres, exposing me to many different areas of storytelling I had never previously considered.  Panels covered topics such as diversity in stories, activism with narrative, improving your writing, how to make money storytelling, including sex scenes in writing, and how to write serial stories. Honestly, there were so many interesting panels, I had a hard time choosing which ones to attend, and sometimes I was simply influenced by the sheer fact that one panel had filled to capacity. I was thrilled to hear from panelists as they described their own experiences and their thoughts on how society influences all of our stories and how stories influence society. I realized that no matter what level of “success” or experience one enjoys, we all encounter the same storytelling challenges. We all struggle with writers block, or writing from a different perspective, or finding ourselves reaching a conclusion we don’t agree with. From these panels, I added many books to my reading list, and learned about other avenues of storytelling such as the play (Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind), the audio-drama (Welcome to Night Vale), the song (Dessa Darling), and the game (Find the Starlight).

The vast array of panels and topics was welcome, but also a point of weakness. Covering such large topics such as “diversity in storytelling” within an hour is challenging, if not nearly impossible. At times, the breadth of the topics prevented the speakers from really delving deep into specifics, instead relying on generalities that everyone already agreed to be true. Nevertheless, I am optimistic about the future of NerdCon: Stories. While broad in topics, the purpose of the convention remains clear: to convey the importance of storytelling in all its forms. And with this goal, I believe the first annual NerdCon: Stories easily succeeded and I am positive that this convention will only grow with more panels, more varied speakers, more attendees and most importantly, more stories.

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