A Conversation with Kathy Katims

The lovely Kathy Katims, has launched a new storytelling series, Saved by a Story, which she hosts at her home in Pacific Palisades. With each evening, 100% of the proceeds go to a nonprofit whose mission empowers voices that often go unheard. She is currently accepting submissions for the February 24th show (the theme is GREEN) and tickets are now on sale via the website. Read more in our interview below about how storytelling inspires her and the kinds of stories she is looking for!


Kathleen Katims is a candidate for an MFA in Creative Writing at Antioch University. She writes fiction and creative non-fiction. Her work has been published in Verdad Magazine, The Penman Review, Switchback and Lunch Ticket. She is working on a book called Second Acts, interviewing, researching and writing about people who had interesting journeys out of being stuck and moved in the direction of their dreams.

She is founder of Saved by a Story, a storytelling salon with a purpose–to share stories, build community, and to do social good in the world. She lives in Los Angeles, California with her awesome husband, two kids and big brown dog.

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Karin: What inspired you to create Saved by a Story?

Kathy Katims: There were a couple of reasons as to why I wanted to bring people together to tell stories, build community and help others (at SBAS salon, 100% of the proceeds from admissions go to an organization that is helping underserved communities to tell their story).

One reason I created SBAS was that I was trying to think of ways to build community among writers. I am a writer, and it can be lonely. I thought coming together to share stories and working on a project with other people would be a rich experience.

Secondly, I have been feeling a mix of helplessness and outrage since November 2016. I was hoping such a simple thing as to listen to each other’s stories and to donate would be one way to foster peace, empathy and empowerment.

Lastly, I love reading, writing and listening to stories. So I thought to invite an eclectic group of people to come together to share stories on a theme would be so much fun. To me, there is nothing better. 

I love the name, “Saved by a Story.” What does that mean to you? Have you been ‘saved by story’?

I had a writing class many years ago and the teacher used to bring in great quotes to inspire writing. I looked for the exact quote now to see who said it, but I can’t find it. I remembered it as, “Sometimes a great story can save your life.”

I loved that quote. As a writer, it bolstered my feeling that writing and telling stories was important. 

But as a person, that quote really resonated for me too. There have been so many times when hearing or reading someone’s story has grounded me, lit the way, infused me with hope and helped me along my path. 

An example that comes to mind is when my first child was diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorder at two and a half. 

On the car ride back from the meeting with the developmental pediatrician, after I’d gotten the news, I also (probably no coincidence) got the flu. I went to bed on a Friday, but between the flu and the terrifying worries, I had a hard time getting out of bed that weekend. I worried would my son ever talk? Would he look me in the eyes? Would he go to school? Would I ever be able to connect with him? Would he fall in love? Get married? It felt like someone had blown a hole open in my chest.

I had a book on my nightstand from a friend titled, “Let Me Hear Your Voice,” by Catherine Maurice. In the night, at one of my darkest moments, I started to read. Maurice wrote about her journey learning that her son had autism, how she felt, what she did and how she found help for him.

Her story was a roadmap. It was a reflection of how I was feeling. It was insight into how my son might be feeling. It was hope and direction for me. 

Through her story I could see that with intervention, her son got more communicative and connected and was able to go to school and make friends and be out in the world. Through her story, I felt understood and comforted. I remember the book ends with the boy and his brother having a conversation about dinosaurs, something I didn’t know could be possible, that she hadn’t known would be possible at the beginning of the book. With intervention, this boy’s trajectory was an incredible upward spiral. It gave me the idea that my son’s story, our story, could be like that. 

That story literally got me out of bed, ignited me to get busy and infused me with hope and purpose. So maybe it didn’t save my life literally, but it patched me up, straightened me up and sent me back out int he world to embrace my life. 

How lovely that you’re opening up your home. Storytelling is such a personal, intimate sharing, and to have a space that supports that can only enhance the evening. Do you agree?

I do. It is special to be in a home. It’s different than a theater in that it creates more of a party atmosphere and encourages people to connect during the breaks. 

When the salon first started we had 50. Now we have a 150, so I have started to think about finding spaces outside of my home. I do plan to keep it intimate, but also want to factor in having more impact to raise money for non-profits. I am exploring spaces where we would still have a party atmosphere and are not as formal as a theater, but where we could maybe have 200 people gather. 

You are forwarding the proceeds to great causes. How did that idea come about? What kinds of organizations do you like to support?

I was inspired by a friend who has an art show in her home and often will take a percentage of what the show earns and donate it to a local nonprofit. She loves art and uses it to help others.

I love and believe in stories and writing, and thought I could use the art of storytelling to help others.

I also have been at so many fundraising events that are not fun. SBAS is a rich, soulful evening that also does good in the world. That felt like a winning combination.

I love to support organizations that are empowering the voices of people we don’t usually hear from. So far we have supported at-risk girls in Los Angeles to learn creative writing from professional women writers. We’ve supported a therapeutic preschool for kids with special needs who are struggling with delayed language and we’ve supported a non-profit that is helping incarcerated people to get their Bachelor’s degree. 

The GREEN event is supporting a wonderful non-profit, Film2Future, that is teaching the poorest high school kids in Los Angeles to express themselves by making films and helping them to gain access to jobs in the entertainment industry.

What kinds of stories are you interested in? Is the evening devoted to personal narrative or do you also include fiction, poetry, etc.?

The stories at SBAS are mostly personal narrative written for the evening’s theme, though I have included a poet and some music in each of the evenings. In all cases though, people are telling something true about their life. 

Many of the stories are up on the website www.savedbyastory.com if people want to hear samples. The stories when read are a maximum of ten minutes long (5 double space pages or less), but can be shorter.

I know that you currently have an open call for submissions for the February 24th show GREEN. What kinds of “takes” would excite you?

I try to pick themes that storytellers can come at from different perspectives. When I thought of GREEN, I thought those stories can include the idea of being new at something, getting the go ahead to do something, being jealous, or stories about conservation or gardens. I’d love to include an immigration story about a green card. I’d love also to be surprised by a perspective I hadn’t thought of. 

Are you looking for polished pieces, or do you work with the writers to help shape and craft the pieces?

Most people submit polished pieces though I have helped people shape stories that I loved but I felt needed another pass or two. I’ve done this especially when I wanted to make sure to include a person’s unique perspective in the evening. For example, a writer who was also an Afghanistan war veteran submitted a story for the ENOUGH salon. It was excellent and I really wanted to include that perspective, but his story just needed another pass to get closer to his experience and let us in a little more. He did two more passes on that story, and it turned out to be one of the most powerful stories in all of our evenings so far. 

Can you give people a sense of what the format of the evening is like?

There is a warming in period where you can get a drink and a bite for a half an hour. Then I welcome everybody. The nonprofit that we are supporting presents their organization for about 5-7 minutes.

There are eight stories on the theme with a 15-minute intermission. I ask writers to read their work out loud at home before they submit to make sure their story is 10 minutes or less. 

I also try to include some music in the evening. For GREEN we are lucky enough to have two wonderful musical acts performing.

How often will you be doing these evenings? Can you share any upcoming dates or themes?

This year we will be doing three to four events. The next event will be in late spring and the date will be announced at the salon and on the website.

The theme of the next event is ICE.

Given that you are also a writer, I’m wondering if we’ll get to hear some of your stories, too?

I got to tell a story at the FIRSTS salon and do hope to read another again soon. I was nervous, but it was exhilarating and I’d love to read again. It was also a rich experience to write to the theme.

The last salon I had 22 submissions and 8 spots so I only want to include my story if it works well with of all the other stories.

What do you hope people who attend Saved by a Story will come away with?

For people who are coming to listen, I hope they’ll enjoy the stories. I hope they laugh or are moved or empathize or connect to someone’s narrative. I hope they hear a story that broadens, delights and surprises them.

For readers/writers and storytellers, I hope that it is a rich, soulful experience to share their story. So many of the people who have told stories told me that they loved the experience.

I hope people will feel part of a community.

I hope too that these nonprofits that are doing such important work will be embraced by people at the salon and that their community is broadened as well. I hope people will support by donating, but also consider other ways they can bring their particular skills or resources to bear. 

Come to listen. Come to share. Come to help others. Just come.
 

 

To learn more, visit: www.savedbyastory.com

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