Pittsburgh: Past, Present, Future; October 2021; An Elevate Atlanta project StoryMuse conducted in partnership with Tronzai Media (Photo by Rikki Brew, Envisioning Freedom Photography)

Storytelling was a steady presence in Shannon Turner’s life – in school clubs, at summer camp, and at work – but the 2016 presidential election fallout motivated her to make storytelling her focus. 

“It felt like I’d been ignoring a calling to help us hear each other,” Turner said. “So, I left my job with $4,000 in the bank, six-weeks notice, and never looked back.”

And StoryMuse was born. The organization offers private coaching, workshops, residencies, content development, and more for individuals as well as teams and communities.

Shannon Turner, right, coaches individuals and teams using a life maps technique to draw out stories they want to tell.

Turner got her first major contract with the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) While there, she developed profile stories, a podcast, and short documentary films culminating in a six-city tour to help individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities raise their voices to advocate for government funding needed to live independently in their communities.

One of her most recent assignments was with Zaban, the only couple’s shelter in Atlanta. Turner worked with Deborah Hendreth and Percy Cooper ­– who have been together eight years – after they were evicted from their home earlier this year.

“This is my first time in a shelter,” Cooper said. “We are moving to manage a personal care home. It’s a live-in facility and we get room and board – so we can give back.”

Percy Cooper and Deborah Hendreth share their “Stories from Home “ at Zaban Paradies fundraiser (Photo by Clare S. Richie)

At a recent Zaban fundraising event, Hendreth used what Turner had taught her to tell the crowd how she and Cooper had met.

“One day at the bus stop, I was patting my head, when a man [Cooper] asked me what was wrong. I said my scalp was so tender, burning from surgery. He said his wife had died from the same thing; a few years prior.”

Hendreth spent weeks in the hospital, and Cooper was there for her when she got out. Turner also helped coach Zaban volunteer Keith Yaeger. “Shannon got my thoughts in order,” Yaeger said. “She said ‘Let’s pick one or two ideas that you are most comfortable with’… She’s so patient and gave me direction.”

Turner said everyone has a story to tell.

“It’s your story. You can’t get it wrong, but you can get it better,” she said. “That’s what I do. It’s all about building empathy and connection in a world that’s constantly distracting us and driving us further apart.”

In 2021, Turner did a six-week residency in Pittsburgh, the southwest Atlanta neighborhood which has been rapidly gentrifying as developers pressure longtime residents to sell their properties.

“Legacy and newer residents told stories in pairs about the past, present or future they would like to see become true of the community,” Turner said.

Carapace storytelling at Manuel’s Tavern. (Photo by Andrew Huang)

Last summer, Turner took over producing Carapace, a free event to tell and hear stories based on a theme every fourth Tuesday at Manuel’s Tavern in Poncey-Highland.

“This is true-life storytelling with a room full of strangers who by the end of the show will know you and you them a little better,” said Carapace host Cris Gray. 

The April  “Struck” theme brought forward tales of a barfight, a girl’s soccer injury, and a family vacation from an autistic storyteller, Ronald, who drove all the way from Stockbridge.

After Ronald’s charming tale of his family trip to Costa Rica, the crowd erupted in applause.

“That’s how we learn about each other – through stories,” Gray said.

Learn more at StoryMuse.net.

Clare S. Richie is a freelance writer and public policy specialist based in Atlanta.