Imma Tell You

Anna Bninski needed advice on a new apartment.

“I reached for my teddy bear,” she said into a microphone at the Institute Library’s fourth annual Tellabration, “and grabbed a sleeping raccoon…and I thought: ‘I have to find somewhere else!’”

Bninski’s tall tale about the pestilential mice, rats, capybaras, and alleged Irish Elk of greater New Haven was the first of six ten-minute oral narratives told at the Institute Library on Thursday night. The stories varied widely, chronicling embarrassing attempts at CPR, embracing an ecstatic dog’s point of view, inviting listeners into a witty Aegean net-mender’s shack. 

The Institute Library timed its Tellabration to coincide with the conclusion of a four-week storytelling workshop series. Most of Thursday’s tellers were graduates of the program, some presenting for their second or third time. A follow-up will take place Tuesday Nov. 14, also at the Institute Library. 

“People come in with wildly different levels of experience,” said workshop coordinator Arnie Pritchard after the tellings. “Some people say they’re not storytellers, but every human being is a storyteller!”

New Haven’s Tellabration was one of 30 Tellabrations held across the state, part of a yearly festival organized by the Connecticut Storytelling Center that concludes December 7th. Last weekend (Nov. 12), Pritchard himself presented on his father’s World War II letters in Oxford. 

Pritchard explained that the fall workshops comprise four two-hour sessions that start in September and built towards this night. “It doesn’t just develop stories,” he said, “it develops relationships—it develops community.”

He indicated how there are “lots of talented tellers around” Connecticut, but that he “would only with extreme reluctance” bring in a more experienced teller to replace a workshop participant. Sara deBeer—co-coordinator, folklorist and one such emergency substitute presenter at Thursday’s Tellabration—pointed out how “each teller is getting as much pleasure from seeing their buddies get up and tell,” as telling themselves.

There are stories that delight them each year, said Prichard and deBeer. deBeer described an uncustomary “leavening of folk tales” with her story about a Greek peasant who outsmarted both his king and his king’s wise men. Pritchard lingered over Bninski’s “Urban Wildlife.”

“It starts out in the recognizable, believable, plausible world, but it gets more and more implausible as it goes on.”

Bninski’s story skipped from sublease to sublease, touring the crowd through her ill-starred tenancies. At first, she had trouble sharing common areas with complete strangers. “I felt self-conscious taking up counter space for box wine,” Bninski smiled. 

She soon found it was more difficult to share her quarters with critters: chased from five consecutive properties by an increasingly fantastical cast of animals. Arnie drew the line at an extinct giant deer reanimated by a Yale Peabody archaeo-biologist with a passing taste for the cotton pajamas on Bninski’s clothesline.

“We’re off in a different kind of story, now,” Pritchard laughed.

Bninski’s narrative shared some structural similarities with a telling from Tarn Granucci, poet Laureate of Wallingford. Bninski punctuated the shift between apartments with the refrain “I should find somewhere else” and Granucci transitioned through his preadolescent memories behind the wheel claiming “I was an excellent driver.”

Granucci lavished description on the automotive culture of the American ‘60s. “It was Walter’s father’s car,” Granucci reminisced. “Gold with silver shifters…it had hemis—it was the fastest car in Wallingford and Walter’s father loves this car more than anything in the earth.”

Jezrie Marcano-Courtney spoke to an altogether different kind of love in her story “Inconspicuous.”

“Andrew St. John,” she glowed, her tongue planted firmly in her cheek, “was the most beautiful boy I had seen at St. Brendan’s Catholic School. Andrew St. John had the most beautiful blue-green eyes—” 

“Andrew St. John,” “Andrew St. John,” cooed grade-school Jezrie, listing out his attributes in slow, measured, syrupy speech broken by frank asides. “Andrew St. John had a headful—you’re looking at me like you don’t believe me—he had a headful of perfect blond hair. It made him look like a teen idol.”

Andrew St. John tapped Marcano-Courtney on the shoulder one day at choir rehearsal and told her that she reminded him of this tale’s titular SAT word. 

“The word ‘inconspicuous’ means something not attractive,” mansplained Marcano-Courtney’s teen idol, “something not worth paying any attention to.” 

The young Jezrie went home dejected and went out to the movies with her family that night in an impressionable mood. She was star-struck by the drag queens road tripping in To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar.

“I looked at the most beautiful women,” she exclaimed. There was Chi-Chi Rodriguez batting her eyelashes and looking over her shoulder. (“So exotic!”) There was the sassiness of Wesley Snipes as Noxeema Jackson. 

“The shift! The point! The ‘Imma-tell-you, imma-tell-you, imma-tell-you and you gonna listen,’” recalled Marcano-Courtney. 

“It made me so confused,” she confessed, “that my teenaged years—”

Her voice tapered off. Marcano-Courtney held her hands up an inch from her head, palms facing in towards her temples, and spun them in circles—her eyes dazed, her neck lolling, her cheeks puffed out. She promptly flash cut to 2005, where she met a young Englishman while on exchange in the United Kingdom, who asked her about American football but really wasn’t interested about American football.

She flash cut again to 2017, as her husband of twelve years approached her, and asked if he had told her yet today that she was beautiful.

“Yes,” murmured Marcano-Courtney. “Yes, you have!”