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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Minnesota author Kling gives talk on “The Dog Says How”

<nesday November 7, Kevin Kling, famous Minnesotan playwright and storyteller, came to Carleton to discuss his new and first book “The Dog Says How.” Kling is best known for his storytelling on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered as well as for his acclaimed playwriting.

The talk, sponsored by the book club Northfield Reads!, consisted of animated readings from “The Dog Says How” interspersed with anecdotes not included in the book, followed by a question-and-answer session.

In one of his opening anecdotes, Kling, self-characterized as “the kind of guy who wears socks with sandals cause I know it pisses people off,” described how he gave up a would-be life of peace in Australia to come back to his home, where there was the “tension” he needed to be able to go and try to fix things in the world.

The types of stories in Kling’s book are varied, yet in each is a resounding truth applicable to everyone. The stories, the subjects of which include loss, happiness, sadness, peace, baseball, Kling’s father, and his mother’s purse, are autobiographical, and also include tidbits on typical adolescent behavior. “Before there was Jackass the movie, there was me and my brother,” King explained. Kling also affirmed that “ninety-five percent of the book is true—so if you hit page ten and haven’t believed any of it, then the rest is true.”

Kling said the stories in his book are derived from oral tradition; most of his stories have had twenty years’ worth of telling before he wrote them down. For Kling, who named Mark Twain, Flannery O’Connor and William Goyen as some of his favorite storytellers and mentors, the process of writing the book involved learning how to transform stories that were in the oral form into the visual form. Oral storytelling, Kling said, is an “invitation”; the audience must be brought in slowly. On the contrary, in written short stories, he explained that “you need to bring people into the story right away.”

Kling mentioned the difficulty of bringing his stories and humor to foreign cities and countries. “In Minneapolis, people come wanting to get into it,” he said. “In New York, you get a feeling they’re cheering for the other side.”

To overcome this, he explained that he tries to get them into a Minnesotan “frame of mind.” Of the people of his home state, Kling said, “Minnesotans always surprise people, and our storytelling always goes well. We really hold our own- people don’t think we’re funny so it really catches them off-guard.”

During the question-and-answer session following the reading, Kling delved into the art of storytelling. “There are three main things I’d tell someone who wants to tell better stories,” he said. “One, treat it like a conversation. There’s an exchange of energy that’s one hundred percent back at the audience. Also, enjoy yourself. Tell something you’re going to enjoy telling.” Finally, he advised to “learn [the story] as much as you can, but forget it when you get up there,” explaining that proficient storytellers do not usually know what story they are going to tell when they show up.

In the concluding discussion, Kling commented on American storytelling in general. “Americans are incredible storytellers- we’ve done with stories what we’ve done with jazz.” He observed that, while foreign stories are beautiful traditional tales, “[Americans] take stories, and fly with them.”

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