Raconteurs make storytelling an art

Peter Aguero - Photo courtesy The Unchained Tour.

Peter Aguero - Photo courtesy The Unchained Tour.

The word "raconteur" is a distinction that, for most of history, comes off as more genuine when bestowed rather than self-proclaimed.

Simply defined, a raconteur is a teller of great stories. But it implies that the gift of gab comes naturally — more of a personality trait than a practiced art.

‘The Unchained Tour’

With storytellers Annie Duke, Tim Manley, Michaela Blei and Peter Aguero; 7:30 p.m. Monday at Crosstown Arts, 422 N. Cleveland. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at theunchainedtour.org.

Like David Sedaris, Jean Shepherd (the radio personality whose childhood memories make up the classic film "A Christmas Story"), and Mike Birbiglia (of "Sleepwalk with Me"), raconteurs have a built-in reputation for amazing experiences. They are always the most interesting person in the room.

For most of his professional life, Peter Aguero has been telling stories, but he is more finicky about the title of "raconteur," which has become his calling card.

"Storytellers look at the world and report on what they see," says the New Jersey native who now lives in Queens, N.Y. A raconteur is wired to describe something in a vivid way. To make you feel like you are there. It's about sharing experiences that we all can relate to, not just the crazy ones."

Aguero is one of four professional raconteurs appearing Monday night at Crosstown Arts in an evening of nonfiction storytelling.

The Unchained Tour, which is dropping into 12 Southern cities, promotes the increasingly popular institution of live storytelling.

The tour is the brainchild of novelist George Dawes Green who, in 1997, founded a series of storytelling nights in New York City called the "Moth." As more people stepped up to share their real-life stories, the Moth grew. It's now a radio program on NPR heard on more than 200 stations. A podcast of the show is available on iTunes.

Crossing the South in a 1972 Bluebird school bus are Annie Duke, a poker champion and author; Tim Manley, a mentor with PEN American's Writers in Prison Program; Michaela Blei, a writer and educator in New York, and Aguero, who is the host of the show. Musical interludes will be performed by Brooklyn-based songwriter Christopher Paul Stelling.

Aguero started on the road to raconteur-dom through stand-up comedy.

Everyone, he says, has a funny or crazy story to tell.

"When you run out of crazy stories, that's when you start telling the good stories," Aguero says. "Your whole life is made out of stories. The best stories are what I call the crossroads decisions — figuring out the small moments that changed you in some major way."

The naturally gregarious Aguero says that the reputation for being a "raconteur" has its downside. "People will come up to me and say, 'Oh, you're a raconteur? Tell me a story!'" he says. "I'll say, 'It's my day off.' Now that I do this for a living, I can't tell halves of stories anymore, which is what happens when you're out in social settings. I have to tell the whole thing or I'm unsatisfied. These days, when I'm out with a group of people, I find myself just sitting back and listening, filing away memories for future stories. Even when it's my day off, I'm still working."

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