If you’re planning to attend the Fall Convocation at Perkins November 15-16, hang onto your hat. On Monday evening, attendees will be treated to a Poetry Slam Open Mic program led by nationally renowned spoken word author and actor Michael Guinn.

Guinn is a two-time National Poetry Slam Finalist, Toronto International Slam Champion and four-time Austin International Poetry Festival (AIPF) Slam Champion. He has more than 20 years of stage, film, radio and public speaking experience.

Guinn’s presentation is part of the Fall Convocation’s packed lineup of storytelling, music, dance, worship, conversation and keynote speakers Amy-Jill Levine, Lillian Daniel, and Patrick B. Reyes, all connected to this year’s theme, “Speak Up! Stories for a New Day.”

We caught up with Guinn for a preview of his program; here are excerpts from the conversation.

Give us a preview of what youll do at Fall Convocation.

What I’m planning to do is to provide a really high energy, highly engaging creative writing exercise where participants will be able to just “get free” as we call it. I’ll provide writing prompts. They’ll be able to share their work. I’m going to give them some tenets of performance to help get them out of their comfort zones and bring a little bit of their own personalities out. They’ll be able to create on the spot and then share in the moment, so there’s no chance to think about it and get hung up.

This sounds like a lot of fun, but some people might hear that and say, Oh, heck no!”

To them I would say, I was once an “Oh, heck no!” guy and here I am! This exercise gives you a little bit of insight into how people feel when they’re on stage. Once you invest yourself in the exercises you learn to overcome stage fright. You see that it’s not so bad to share from the heart, that there are people who resonate with what you have to say, that you have value and you have a voice.

Will people be writing poetry?

This is a spoken word poetry free write session, so you don’t have to be a poet. You don’t have to be an actor or a polished speaker. You just have to be willing to come in with an open mind and follow some of the prompts. Everybody is going to write. But not everybody has to share. My job is to create a safe and supportive environment where people will say, “Oh, what the heck, let me get in there and do this. If so-and-so can do it, I can do it.” I’m really good at creating that kind of safe, supportive atmosphere.

Your bio says you address mental health and wellness in your work. Will that be part of your presentation?

Spiritual wellness is always part of every presentation. It’s about giving attendees little prompts, to be able to write and create on the spot. I want them to have the freedom to think outside the box, whatever that is. Everybody is going to be engaged. Plus, there’s a sense of the community that arises when people start to laugh and to share.

The theme of the convocation is storytelling. Youre a storyteller, both through the spoken word and as an actor. Talk a little about why stories are so important. 

Storytelling serves as a good historical marker. It’s a way of recording, for people to understand what happened before they were born. The process of how we tell stories is also important — so that we use the kind of language that stands out, so people remember the details of the story. I’m not talking so much about an academic approach, like with similes and metaphors and alliteration. It’s more about using colorful imagery and language in telling the story and having the story have a rhythm to it. To me, those stories are the ones that stand out and those are the ones that we remember.

Anything else you want people to know, to encourage them to attend?

This is a creative writing exercise where the participants can share their own work from the writing prompts. When you have a safe, supportive atmosphere, people will laugh, cry, and be highly entertained and highly engaged. They will connect to each other and there will be an immediate sense of community.  From that, anything can happen. I look forward to seeing everybody transformed!