The Moth’s 20-year retrospective contains all the hope, sadness, triumphs, and tribulations that have defined the pioneering live reading series since its modest debut in 1997.
Devoted fans of The Moth Radio Hour know that the true stories told live onstage without notes in venues located throughout the world consistently pack an emotional wallop. It’s refreshing to see that those same stories are almost as powerful in print as they are in person. For instance, the story of a child soldier from Sierra Leone casually besting his New York City pals in a teenage game of paintball is almost as hilarious and heartbreaking as if author Ishmael Beah were in the room telling you the tale himself. Christof Koch’s stirring memoir about his time working with famed scientist Francis Crick right before his death is no less impactful on paper. Similarly, Nadia Bolz-Weber’s account of her life-changing experience on the road to Jericho ably conveys the intensity of the panic attack that taught her how to be vulnerable around her fellow travelers (“twenty Super-Nice Lutherans from Wisconsin”). Some stories—e.g., Tig Notaro’s “R2, Where Are You?”—do lose a little something being restricted to the page, but that likely has more to do with editing for space than a missed performance. Other stories, like Tomi Reichental’s absolutely shattering account of how she narrowly escaped death at the infamous Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, actually benefit from the buffer the written word provides. Other contributors include Louis C.K., Adam Mansbach, Jane Green, John Turturro, Jessi Klein, Meg Wolitzer, and Gil Reyes. Overall, the two decades of the Moth remain as entertaining and powerful off-stage as they were onstage.
As Neil Gaiman writes in his foreword, “the Moth teaches us not to judge by appearances. It teaches us to listen. It reminds us to empathize.” Here’s to at least 20 more years.