Features
Stories from the Stoop

March 26th, 2009
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Laura Simms invites listeners into the Boro Park of her youth.

Wraparound porches, endless sky, cod swimming in bathtubs.
Ancient trees, little girls playing together, ringelevio.
Going to temple, going to church, going from stoop to stoop to stoop.

These are but a few of the sights, sounds, and smells offered us through the magnificent storytelling of Laura Simms and Gioia Timpanelli as they shared their stories of growing up in neighborhood Brooklyn during the recent STC program Stories From the Stoop: Dreaming of Boro Park, held at the 92nd Street YM–YWHA in the Buttenwieser Library on March 26, 2009. Steve Zeitlin of City Lore introduced and closed the program.

Laura invited us deep into the Boro Park, Brooklyn, of her youth. It was a happy, busy neighborhood, populated by several generations of recent immigrants from post World War II Europe as well as old timers already settled there. Italians, Irish, secular Jews from Eastern European countries all living and raising their children together. She began inside her childhood home with intimate memories, then led us outside with imagistic stories of the bustling, vibrant streets of her neighborhood in the 1950's and 1960's.

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Gioia Timpanelli shows listeners her Brooklyn neighborhood of Gravesend.

From the sky that seemed to stretch out forever to the old tree at the center of the neighborhood, Gioia's story route commenced outside as she showed us her south Brooklyn neighborhood of Gravesend. First calling to us in Sicilian and English, she shared warm, rich memories in stories, painting a vibrant picture of family, neighbors and friends. The Gravesend streets were magic places for little girls who all appeared to be named Joyce. Though infused with Sicilian flavor in warm portraits of her family, her tales seemed universal under that endless sky.

The program was beautifully introduced and concluded by folklorist Steven Zeitlin of City Lore, who talked about the beginning of the storytelling renaissance and his role as a folklorist within this movement.
It was doubtlessly a wonderfully nourishing evening for those of us who came to explore New York City neighborhoods through the stories of those who live and have lived there. The house was packed, with more seats being added as the audience grew. We were transfixed for almost two hours as we followed the seamless Brooklyn narrative from Steve to Laura to Gioia, then back to Steve and the storytellers. The stories were evocative and almost familiar as these two master tellers drew us the pictures of their own neighborhood "homelands."

This program was the first in the Stories from the Stoop series, a collaboration between the Storytelling Center and the 92nd Street YM–YWHA, and was curated by Robin Bady. The Stories From the Stoop series was created by Robin Bady, Peninnah Schram, and Steve Siegel of the 92nd St. Y Library.
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Steven Zeitlin served as host for the evening.