LEWISTON — When Michael Sargent first asked for volunteer storytellers, there were no takers. Not a single hand went up.

Sargent wasn’t discouraged. He simply cozied up to the microphone and reminded the group that the chance to tell stories among peers is a wonderful thing.

“This is a community effort,” Sargent said. “It doesn’t work until you step up as a community.”

It was another night of “The Corner,” a storytelling event at She Doesn’t Like Guthries, now three years old. The theme on this gloomy October night was “Fear and Loathing.”

Sargent, a professor of social psychology at Bates College, got things started with a tale of a sociological experiment he once took part in. In the experiment, undergraduates were asked to complete a survey and then take their completed papers down a long hallway.

“Along the way, he encounters a very large man standing at a file cabinet,” Sargent told the audience.

The very large man was part of the experiment, of course. The idea was to see how the students would react when the big guy became verbally abusive. Why? Those behind the experiment wanted to contrast the reactions of students from the northern half of the country to those from the South.

The results were predictable. The students from the North laughed off the name-calling and hostility of the sizable stranger in the doorway.

“The men from the South were not so amused,” Sargent said. “They were ready to be aggressive.”

This tale of fear and loathing in the college hallways wasn’t meant to simply fill a five-minute slot. Sargent used the story to recall for his audience a pair of events from his own past. In one event, he failed to stand up for himself when the situation called for it. In a second, he did stand up for himself — but in doing so, frightened a young woman he had met in a bar.

There’s a lesson in there for sure. But before the audience mulled it for long, Sargent asked again for volunteers.

Several hands went up — first two, then a third and a fourth. The audience was warming to the idea of telling their own stories.

Sargent has been leading the group since 2013.

“My vision for ‘The Corner,'” Sargent said when the event was first unveiled, “is one where we regularly hear interesting, true, first-person stories told by people from diverse backgrounds — diverse ethnic backgrounds, sexualities, nationalities and more. The stories look to the past, but without romanticizing it. Tellers look outwardly to unfamiliar worlds, but without exoticizing them. Audience members potentially walk away knowing new people and sometimes discovering new empathy for people far different from themselves.”

“The Corner” also proves to be instructional — at Guthries on Thursday night, Sargent led the audience through storytelling exercises. Each person was instructed to recall a time that he or she was afraid — or that he or she inspired fear in someone else — and then tell that story to a partner.

“You want to recreate, in vivid detail, a sequence of events,” Sargent advised.

And then it was back to the scheduled speakers. One woman told a story of being secretly taught how to gamble by a gruff uncle, only to learn later on that a prim grandmother enjoyed the pastime as well.

Another speaker, University of Southern Maine Professor Ira “Ike” Levine, told a story about the search for a bottle of perfect scotch.

And then a woman got up to speak, joking with the audience a bit before getting down to her story, which, as it turned out, perfectly fit the theme of fear and loathing.

She recalled a time as a 9-year-old when she was collecting leaves in a Manhattan park. An older man approached her and said he was also collecting leaves and asked if he could join her.

The uneasiness of the audience was obvious as the storyteller described how the man enticed her to the bushes.

“All of a sudden,” she said, “he turned to me and said, ‘May I kiss you?'”

What followed was a sexual attack in which the man held the girl down and licked her face with his hands around her throat.

“Everything turns kind of blurry,” the storyteller said, “and that’s all I remember.”

She was later found by a park ranger and taken to a hospital.

“My big feeling at that moment was, ‘I’m so embarrassed,'” she said.

The woman survived the attack and decades later, told the story to a group of mostly strangers at a Lewiston club, who rewarded her with thunderous applause once the tale was over.

Such is the magic of “The Corner,” where stories are told that amuse and entertain — and occasionally horrify.

For more information about the event, visit cometothecorner.com.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.