The works of great storytellers such as James Baldwin and Lorraine Hansberry are archived at the Schomburg Center so it’s only fitting that the first ever Story SLAM in Harlem is being held there. Kicking off on Tuesday Feb. 4 at 6:30 p.m., StorySLAM is produced by the same team that creates the immensely popular “The Moth Hour” for public radio and The Moth Mainstage shows.

Harlemites will put their names in a hat, and 10 local tellers will be selected at random to step up to the mic and share their stories. Anyone can prepare a five-minute story and come prepared to perform.

The Moth’s Senior Curatorial Producer Susan Rust speaking with the Amsterdam News commented, “We’re just really honored to be at the Schomburg Center which is basically the house that storytelling built. So many of our stories are here as African Americans and Americans so The Moth is really excited to be part of it.”

They decided to bring StorySLAM to Harlem, Rust explains, because “We’re still new to Harlem in the last few years. And I think that SLAMs get people acquainted with us.”

The theme of this iteration of StorySLAM is “Only In Harlem,” about life in one of the world’s most iconic neighborhoods. Rust explains that this theme was chosen because “Harlem brings such a cross section of people, you know you’ve got people from the African diaspora, you’ve got locals who have grown up there. People who are coming in and out all the time and I just feel like we feel like it’s a place where there’s a special magic.”

The stories, Rust advises, must be centered on the storyteller. “They have to be about you. Moth stories are about a moment of change, they’re not anecdotes. Tell us what was a pivotal moment for you in that story that made you change. It doesn’t have to be the biggest, or worst thing that ever happened to you, but there has to be an aha moment. There must be some type of change.”

In the age of social media, the potential role of a live spoken word event is immense. It can bring people together, and create community in a way we’ve become unaccustomed to. “People are really hungry for face-to-face conversation and discourse and connection,” Rust observes, “and while we get that to some degree, on social media, there’s nothing that can compare to looking someone in the eye or having them in the room, as they tell their personal truth, whether that’s something that makes you laugh or that makes you cry.”

Sponsored by WNYC, StorySLAM at the Schomburg will be hosted by occasional Moth podcast co-host, Dame Wilburn. The Detroit-based comedian, writer, and Moth favorite, is excited about the event’s potential to bring people together. She told Amsterdam News via email, “The Moth is about listening as much as storytelling. This event gives all of us a chance to sit and hear what is important to us and the world we live in. That interpersonal interaction is vital and visceral in a way that social media can’t touch.”

Rust spent part of her youth in Harlem before moving to the Upper West Side then returning fifteen years ago. For her, storytelling is a feature of Harlem’s culture. “Harlem is such a storytelling community. Whether it’s the old man on the corner or the lady in the church. We’re storytellers, and to have that arena where we can share and spread that with other people that may be outside of our usual comfort zone it can change how you feel about a situation or group of people.”

According to its website, “The Moth is an acclaimed nonprofit organization dedicated to the art and craft of storytelling. Since launching in 1997, The Moth has presented over 35,000 stories, told live and without notes to standing-room-only crowds worldwide.” The Moth also has seven ongoing programs with The Moth Mainstage being the most prominent. The Moth StorySLAM program, has open mic storytelling competitions in over twenty-five U.S. cities and plus Sydney, Melbourne, and London.