A myth is an image in terms of which we try to make sense of the world.
I want to share with you the American Myth Center’s birth story. Its seed came from John Steinbeck. Back in 2015, I was assistant directing Terry Kinney on Frank Galati’s adaptation of East of Eden for Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago. Working on dramaturgical notes for the program, I came across Steinbeck’s purpose for writing the novel in his journal:
I am choosing to write this book to my sons. They are little boys now and they will never know what they came from through me, unless I tell them . . . They have no background in the world of literature, they don’t know the great stories of the world as we do. And so I will tell them one of the greatest, perhaps the greatest story of all--the story of good and evil, of strength and weakness, of love and hate, of beauty and ugliness.
He was striving to give his sons reference points in their lives’ search for meaning. What struck me most is the admission that they had no background in the great stories. This idea was sown in the soil of my mind and the water came from Joseph Campbell who said in The Power of Myth:
One of our problems today is that we are not well acquainted with the literature of the spirit. We’re interested in the news of the day and the problems of the hour…Greek and Latin and biblical literature used to be part of everyone’s education…It used to be that these stories were in the minds of people. When the story is in your mind, then you see its relevance to something happening in your own life. It gives you perspective on what’s happening to you.
As a country, I believe we are on an urgent, yet enduring investigation into what it means to be American. Yet, this question of our rapidly evolving identity comes at a time when we have lost touch with the great stories and, with that, perspective.
Modern day thinker, writer and blogger extraordinaire Maria Popova provided the sunshine in her conversation with Krista Tippet for the podcast, On Being:
We orient ourselves in the darkness of the unknown by grasping blindly for familiar points of reference and we seek to construct out of them a compass; out of the similarities and contrasts relative to our familiar world and existing knowledge.
With new American Myths, the AMC hopes to offer those familiar points of reference and act as a compass for all on our journey forward. That’s the beginning. Now the work beings.