by Tim Kelley.
Stories with Soul was founded in 1993 by the late Warren Bryan, a prominent actor and All Souls activist. According to Miles Chapin, an author, actor and one of Warren’s very first readers: “I think when Warren created Stories with Soul, he saw an opportunity to foster a group which appreciated good writing, fine performances (although he made me audition for him) and thoughtful stories. The ensuing flourishment of the Stories with Soul community is testament both to his vision and the veracity of his insight.”
Marilynn Scott Murphy, an influential theatrical agent and a former actress, was also one of Warren’s first readers and was “deeply appreciative of his idea.” She too had to audition for him. (P. S. Readers are no longer required to audition.)
Warren read frequently in those early days. We have honored Warren with a plaque now hung in the Ware Room. Also honored with a plaque is the late actress Charlotte Parsons.
At Halloween, Charlotte dressed up in classic Elizabethan dresses to the delight of all. She was really the start of our annual Halloween celebration. Included on Charlotte’s plaque is her moving poem “Nine Eleven.” Other early readers were Jane Levenson, the actress Alice Kenner and the late Francesca Thompson.
Stories with Soul caught on quickly. In 1995 it became one of the few All Souls activities to meet throughout the summer. Though some summers were skipped in ensuing years, from 2003 on the group has met 52 weeks a year. The continuing popularity of Stories with Soul is evidenced by consistent attendance averaging 15-40 each week. Among our more prominent readers are the renowned actress Dana Ivey and David Rockefeller, Jr., a well-known narrator in musical and historical performances. Weekly sessions are led by a monthly host appointed by the Coordinator. The host in turn recruits weekly readers who choose their own stories. Archives including titles, authors and readers for the full 25 years at Stories with Soul are kept by Co-Archivists Frank Patton and Tim Kelley.
One indispensable participant in our weekly discussions is Rose Patton, a former teacher, whose comments regularly help to put stories in perspective for the group. And Pat Taylor served for a time as Coordinator. For the 15 or so years, Steve Michelman has been Coordinator; Teresa Brooks has served as Co-Coordinator for several years as well.
Over the years, the archives show, the most frequent reader has been Neil Osborne, the group’s impeccably punctual timekeeper, who has read 52 times. The writer most often read is John Cheever, at 25 times. Sometimes a monthly host will establish a special theme for the month, and three times attendees have been given options and voted on which story to hear.
On one Wednesday in 2003 there was a “guess the author” event in which early stories by unidentified famous writers were read, with prizes awarded to the correct guessers. (Spoiler alert: The authors were J.D. Salinger and Norman Mailer.)
On at least four occasions at Stories With Soul a published story has been read by its author, and another time the group telephoned the author on Long Island after her story was read aloud to ask her questions on speakerphone about her literary intent, a fascinating event.