I’ve been quiet lately, I know. In truth, I’ve been burnt out on fun writing like these posts because I switched jobs. I went from full-time freelancing to full-time working for someone else that wasn’t always a good fit. That’s a lie: it was a HORRIBLE fit. For a very long time. The only reason I stuck it out was because I didn’t want a small stay on my resume to make me look like a failure… and because the increased, steady income made it much easier for me to plan for an upcoming wedding and house down payment (hello, life! Thanks for sneaking up on me all at once!).
So. My enthusiasm for fun writing died.
Until I found something that brought it back: podcasts.
Podcasts are the media format du jour. They’re fantastic for news or industry insights or personal development or comedy or ranking the best episodes of “Jem” — anything you want. They’re stellar for storytelling, too, since the audio-only format is basically a technologically advanced version of old radio plays.
Here are the 6 best storytelling podcasts I’ve found on the internet:
“Risk” and “The Moth” are renowned for getting real people to share real stories. If you want a more curated, thematic experience plus dope beats, check out WNYC’s “Snap Judgment.” Hosted by Glynn Washington, “Snap Judgement” posts one 30-minute episode a week with stories organized around a theme — “Shrapnel” to discuss war stories, “Talk of the Town” to discuss infamy, “Subterfuge” to discuss a bar that was really a shakedown for the Chicago PD, and those are just from this past month. The stories have an investigative journalism feel, with the producer chiming in to ask the storyteller clarifying questions, but don’t let that fool you: the storyteller is the focus of their own story and they tell all of it in their own words. And did I mention the dope beats? Check it out.
SAMPLE EPISODE: “Warrior Box”
Bonus: “Snap Judgement” runs a special series called “Spooked” leading up to Halloween. These stories are not only equally well-curated and produced; they’re also drawn from real-life, making them extra spooky. “Spooked” is some of the best horror storytelling I’ve ever heard. Here’s my favorite:
SAMPLE EPISODE: “The Boy Named Thomas”
LeVar Burton Reads
As both Jordi LaForge and the man from Reading Rainbow, LeVar Burton was a pivotal part of my childhood. He helped nurture my love of story, and he’s doing the same now with his new podcast. Produced by Stitcher, “LeVar Burton Reads” is a 30-60 minute weekly podcast where LeVar reads a piece of short fiction he happens to love, backed by top musicians and stellar production. His interests are sci-fi, speculative fiction, fantasy and almost everything else (including westerns!). He also has a penchant for showcasing work by people of color, and I am glad he’s getting their voices out there. These are some of the best stories I’ve ever heard, and having a bookworm like LeVar hunt them down and present them every Tuesday is a treat. But, as the man himself would say, “You don’t have to take my word for it.”
SAMPLE EPISODE: “The Baboon War,” by Nnedi Okorafur
Ever wondered what life inside prison is really like? “Ear Hustle” has your back. A weekly 30-minute podcast featuring stories from prisoners in San Quentin State Prison in California, “Ear Hustle” tells you everything you never knew you wanted to know about life in prison — getting a cellmate, raising families, making friends, and even what life is like for gay and transgender inmates. And behind it all, from the co-host to the production team to the storytellers and the dope beats, are the men of San Quentin speaking from their own experiences. As co-host and visual artist Nigel Poor says, “We don’t do stories about people’s crimes. We don’t do stories about how unfair the system is. We do stories about the day to day lived experiences of the prison community.” And that’s what makes them so powerful.
SAMPLE EPISODE: CELLIES
American history is full of spooky shit, and the stuff that makes up our folklore is some of the strangest of that spooky. “Lore” presents it all to you in a morbid, compelling and exquisitely produced biweekly 30-minute podcast. Hosted by author Aaron Mahnke, “Lore” delves into topics as diverse as the first American vampire, the Amityville Horror house, elves, haunted dolls, ghost ships, Typhoid Mary and pretty much every other oddity you can imagine. And, because Mahnke is a writer, his ability to combine extensive research with narrative, tone, mood and sound produces one of the most consistently creepy things I’ve ever heard. “Lore” is the most thematically dense audio experience I’ve ever had. Except for the next entry…
SAMPLE EPISODE: CROSSING THE LINE
Life / After
What would you do if your dead wife reached out to you on Facebook? Panoply and General Electric’s “Life/After” podcast covers exactly that premise, painting a picture of the not-too distant future where dead people’s social media accounts aren’t deactivated but embellished by a rogue artificial intelligence, and… well, where it goes after that I won’t dare spoil. The best part? The technology is all based on GE’s current research, meaning this reality really COULD be life in the near future. You won’t find a better sci-fi story on the internet than “Life / After” —and I write sci-fi for the internet.
SAMPLE EPISODE: EPISODE 1
Wolverine: the Long Night
Marvel hasn’t really gotten into the podcast game, but this first series co-produced by Stitcher is a fantastic start. Well-produced, well-acted and well-paced, “Wolverine: the Long Night” is theater for the ears. A serial crime thriller set in Alaska, the podcast sets everyone’s favorite X-Man in the middle of wilderness against a murder investigation, a creepy cult, and… you have to listen for yourself, bub.
SAMPLE EPISODE: TEASER TRAILER
I think the “Tanis” podcast is a cosmic horror story in the vein of “Welcome to Nightvale” but with a first-person investigative journalism bent. But it’s also trippy and eerie and non-linear, and… so weird, you guys. Weirder than “Welcome to Nightvale,” which is saying something. But it is well-crafted and well worth listening to. The only reason it’s a bonus is because I am woefully far behind—and this is a show you need to listen to chronologically.
SAMPLE EPISODE: Episode 101
What are your favorite storytelling podcasts? Let me know in the comments!