Trudell Releases New Book Celebrating Four Years of The Yarn

Hilary Trudell (’12), co-founder and producer of The Yarn, a storytelling nonprofit in Central Arkansas, is celebrating four years of live and virtual shows with the release of a new book, “Truths We Tell: Stories from The Yarn Stage.”

Trudell, who serves as Director of Local Programs and Regional Outreach for the Office of Community Engagement at the Clinton School, created the book using highlights from The Yarn’s first 20 live and virtual shows over the past four years. It presents 37 unique storytellers and features diverse themes of family, racism, coming out, sexual assault, mental health, failure, resilience, death, and love, among others. At the end of each story, the book includes QR codes that lead the reader to each storyteller’s live reading on The Yarn stage.

For Trudell, “Truths We Tell” and her larger work with The Yarn are just the latest steps in a storytelling journey she started years ago.

“I have been producing shows my whole life,” Trudell said. “First in my backyard to Weird Al Yankovic tapes, next in college, and then on to the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts where I worked after college. I have always had a love of storytelling.”

That love of storytelling first combined with her advocacy interests while she was working for the Human Rights Campaign in Washington, D.C. As Associate Director for Communities and Volunteer Relations, part of Trudell’s job included teaching the organization’s volunteers how to leverage their stories for recruitment, fundraising, and advocacy.

She furthered that fusion of storytelling and advocacy when she returned to Little Rock in 2015, producing “Outloud” – a show highlighting the lived experiences of LGBTQI Arkansans – as part of National Coming Out Day. That show caught the interest of others, and eventually led to the creation of The Yarn.

“When I moved back to Arkansas, I wanted to continue producing shows as a way to leverage my skill set to bring narratives to the stage that we don’t often hear, and through doing so build community and understanding of our neighbors,” Trudell explained. “(Producing Outloud) parlayed into more shows, as community partners started approaching us about producing shows that highlighted stories around themes related to their missions.”

Officially founded in May 2017, The Yarn produced its first show in September of that year and has continued to pursue its mission of using the power of story to amplify voices, build understanding, and create space for human connection ever since. But the mission has evolved, Trudell said, as the organization has created a stage for individuals to showcase their lived experiences in ways she didn’t expect.

“When starting The Yarn, I knew that our goal was to build community and plant seeds in the minds of audience members that would challenge the status quo or long-held biases,” Trudell said. “What I did not anticipate was how empowering this platform would be for the storytellers. While the effect the story has on the audience is still incredibly important, the act of giving people the tools and platform to tell their own stories has become more centered in our mission.”

Trudell’s role at the Clinton School – as a former student, graduate, and now an instructor and staff member – has created paths for many from the school’s family to participate in The Yarn’s various storytelling productions. She has produced shows in partnership with several of the Clinton School’s community partners, including the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas, DecARcerate, and Our House. Included in “Truths We Tell” are individual stories from Spencer Lucker (’12), Crystal C. Mercer (’18), and Nicole Hellthaler (’19), among others.

“It is my firm belief that everyone can be a storyteller,” Trudell said when asked why Clinton School students are well-suited for her productions. “Perhaps it’s their vicinity to me, and their knowledge of my work with The Yarn, as well as their affinity towards the themes. Plus, knowing others who have gone through the story coaching process gives them the confidence to share their story with a live audience.”

Moving forward, Trudell wants The Yarn to continue to explore new platforms for storytelling. Like so many other organizations and businesses, the COVID-19 pandemic has likely changed the way The Yarn will operate in the future, and finding ways to engage a growing virtual audience is a priority.

“As we believe strongly that storytelling has the ability to bring people together and to empower the storyteller, we want to provide as many opportunities as possible for people to share their lived experiences,” she said. “Obviously, COVID forced us to pivot, and we have ventured into new mediums to give as many storytellers as possible the opportunity to share their lived experiences. While I will always love the power of a live performance, we will most likely not do as many as we have in the past. We want to give the opportunity for live storytelling but are ramping up our podcast and exploring other mediums for story sharing. Not everyone is going to want to get on stage and tell a personal story in front of a bunch of strangers, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to share their truth.”



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