It takes nerve to tell a personal story on stage before an audience, but Suffolk students mustered up their courage to compete against GrubStreet writers in a Story Slam at the Modern Theatre, and Suffolk’s Daniel Hurley took the top prize with his narrative about losing his mother to Alzheimer's Disease.

“I delved into the pain of losing her and how I was able to find myself by deciding to live my life like she did,” said Hurley.

Taking the stage with such a personal account takes a leap of faith on the part of the performer.

Professor Amy Monticello in Instagram frame“There's an urgency and vulnerability to live storytelling,” a feeling that can be lost in the details on the printed page, according to Suffolk English Professor Amy Monticello, who organized the event at the Modern Theatre as part of the Boston Literary District's Construction of Self series.

The theme was “Where I Am From,” which could evoke a storyteller’s hometown, ethnicity, politics or other perspective.

Ready to take chances

“In my story I explore what growing up in Jamaica was like, but more specifically, what it was like growing up in a household that was separated from its father figure for years because of immigration policies,” said Janaye Kerr, a student in Monticello's Literary Citizenship class who had wavered before committing to the storytelling performance.

“This is one of those icing-on-top-of-the-cake experiences that I've had here at Suffolk,” said Kerr, a freshman majoring in public relations. “My goal coming here was to break out of my shell a little bit more with each endeavor, and this was something that totally got me to where I wanted to be.”

Encouragement makes a difference

While Hurley is quite comfortable speaking in front of an audience, the story slam was different because he was sharing something very personal in front of a crown he barely knew.

“I was very nervous,” he said. “I usually do not talk about this aspect of my life, and being able to share it all was very freeing.”

Hurley is a freshman history major who has minors in education and leadership. He said that his first year at Suffolk has been a journey of self-discovery that helped shape him into someone who is comfortable revealing a personal chapter in his life.

“I also had encouragement from many students and staff here that helped me believe that I could share this story,” he said.

For Sofia Ohrynowicz, a switch seemed to flip inside her when she went on stage to tell her story.

“My plan was to discuss where my creative spirit comes from, which is from my teenage frustration with how I couldn't control who stayed in my life—from my parents' separation to my friends graduating high school and leaving our drama club,” said Ohrynowicz. “My story was far more brief than I intended, but I believe that I was able to say what I needed to say.”

She also enjoyed listening to other’s tales and was impressed with the Grub Street storytellers, one of whom gave Ohrynowicz a taste of home when she talked about how living in Brooklyn influenced her interactions with people and situations.

“Like so many students in my creative writing classes, storytellers have to first believe that their story offers something others will care about” said Monticello in an interview published on the GrubStreet website. “The performative aspect--(projecting the voice, letting the body relax enough to participate, taking a chance with a joke or a deeply personal revelation) is indeed daunting for many storytellers, but the greatest challenge, I think, is believing that our stories—our lives—are important.”

Photo: Professor Amy Monticello in a light moment during the Story Slam