We are our stories…in more ways than we once understood. We now know how they rewire our brains, reveal truth, cast illusion and create leaders. I’ve come of age during this change in awareness and worked the shifting landscape, writing stories for newspapers and magazines, telling them on television and radio, and crafting character ensembles into the larger tapestries of books. I saw the arrival of the word “narrative” into wide public usage, taught classes with it as a discipline, and sat with Presidents who spoke of rising on the wings of a story told to the American people “of who we are and where we’re bound,” and struggled in office because they lost their “narrative thread.” I weave tales to inspire mortar-boarded graduates, laugh-ready conventioneers and convening notables, looking for big truth, and search the world for spellbinders I can retell. Like the mystical rug in my older son’s cult favorite, “The Big Lebowski,” stories tie it all together. True in my life, my work, and this little website.
In my most recent book, Life, Animated, I decided to tell a personal story. Here’s how it starts: In 1993, soon after my family and I moved to DC, we realized that something was wrong — our younger son Owen was vanishing on us. Before the move he was chatting away, but now, at two-and-a-half, he wouldn’t speak or look us in the eye. We saw a doctor, and another, who gave us the diagnosis: autism. But one thing that stayed constant was Owen’s love for the Disney animated movies that he would watch over and over again. Soon, we realized that he’d memorized every piece of dialogue in every movie. If we threw him a line, he’d throw us back the next one. My house became an elaborate Disney stage set, and through it I was able to reach my son. In the process, he taught me more than I could have ever imagined. Our story is now an Oscar-nominated documentary directed by the amazingly talented Roger Ross Williams.More About The Book More About The Movie
I never thought I’d be the CEO of a tech startup. But after I wrote Life, Animated, I got thousands of responses asking largely the same question: “how can my family connect with our autistic child like you and Cornelia did with Owen?” So I gathered some of the best neuroscientists and technologists around, and got to work on something to help. Sidekicks is a mobile service that helps turn autistic individuals’ passions into pathways for social and personal growth. But it’s also the groundwork for the first AI — fed remotely with insights and information by context-deep coaches, therapists, doctors, family members and friends — that will support us, anywhere, in the act and the art of living.More About Sidekicks
We all tell ourselves stories that help us make our way in the world. But a country also tells itself stories to make its way. These stories are public narratives: big, enveloping things, like race, class, or gender. Sometimes, narratives are based in independently-verifiable facts. Other times, they’re practically fact-free. They can be hijacked — filled with mischief, leading to destructive outcomes — or, they can be deservedly embraced. In my academic work, I try to think clearly about all that. I started a course at Harvard Law School that examines how narratives emerge and how they shape definitions of justice that form the foundation of our law. And I hold events where I talk to key actors in these narratives, like Elizabeth Warren and Edward Snowden.