After the rush of winning the 2013 Moth GrandSlam storytelling competition faded, Lily Be (née Lydia Edith Lucio) noticed that her fellow storytellers were overwhelmingly white. “When I heard I was the first Latinx to win the Slam I was like, ‘Are you serious? How can that be?'” she says. “It’s not like we’re some out-of-the-way place. It’s Chicago.”
Be, a Humboldt Park native of Mexican descent, decided to create a storytelling platform that actually looked like the city where she grew up. The same year as her Moth triumph, Be began The Stoop, now a monthly event at Rosa’s Lounge in Logan Square; a podcast is poised to launch this spring. She’s also nurturing the next generation of storytellers by teaching “Discovering Your Story” courses at Second City, the Hairpin Arts Center, and Northeastern Illinois University as well as leading an ongoing Stoop workshop for newbie storytellers.
She sat down with the Reader to talk about how she got started, where she’s going, and how the storytelling world is changing. Her words are condensed and edited below.
I was like seven [when I told my first story]. Maybe eight. It was a joke as much as a story, this Paul Rodriguez joke that had a bad word for a phallic symbol in it. So, basically a dick joke only I didn’t know what a dick was. I told it on the way to church. What kills me is I can’t remember the punch line. But I do remember I landed it, and my mom was all, “Where did you learn that?” And I was like, “School,” because I didn’t want her taking away my cable.
Telling stories around the table, that was just a thing my family did. My mom and my grandma and my aunts used stories to teach us lessons. Like, “This is the story of that time your aunt got buried in the snow and ruined her new coat and almost froze after she lied about hanging out with some boys, and this is why you don’t lie.”
Sometimes they were horror stories. There was one about my grandma and Freddy Krueger. We’d ask her how the scratches in the roof of the car got there. She told us, “Oh, Freddy Krueger did that.” When I got pregnant [at 17], she told me I was now old enough to hear the truth. She told me, “Those are the scratches I put in the car myself after I found out your grandpa was giving another woman rides in our car.” She also told me about how she became an orphan. About [how] she was almost sexually assaulted by the guy whose house she worked in, but she stabbed him in the leg with a fork and ran home barefoot.
I have this story about my grandpa and his 75th birthday. The night of the seven goat heads. They were on covered dishes. I was 18. I don’t know what I expected was under there, but it wasn’t goat heads. When they uncovered the platters there they were. Seven of them. Eyes, ears, tongues, everything. And they were devoured. Every part of them. So this is a tradition from Mexico, and after I told this story, this guy comes up to me and says, “I would not have guessed you were Mexican. You don’t look Mexican.” And I told him, “You don’t know enough Mexicans.”
That’s when I started really wondering, “Am I the only Latinx sharing stories right now? Where are the rest of us?”
Some storytelling shows come to town and I see what they book and I’m like, “Really? You couldn’t find one brown person for the show? Can we get someone who is poor on the stage?”
When I started questioning why I was the only Latinx to win the Moth GrandSlam, the [storytelling] scene didn’t like that. I’d get up on stage and ask, “Who here is from Chicago? Who identifies as a person of color?” It would be like 1 percent. The Moth was like, “Hey, we’re open for everybody.” But that’s not enough. You have to go out and get people.
My classes aren’t about craft. Whatever that is. They are about discovering your story. Not perfecting it or performing it or winning a contest with it. Discovering it. I thought I don’t have a voice, because that’s what the world tells you when you’re poor and brown. Your family sometimes tells you that. Your partner might tell you that. Sometimes it’s right in your face, sometimes it’s real insidious. Sometimes it’s a commercial that’ll tell you, for instance, you’re a terrible parent because you’re not that mother from What to Expect When You’re Expecting. I want my students to know they have a voice.
When I was offered $600 to peg a guy we’ll call Ross I was so upset and offended and hurt. I’d met him on a fetish kink website, and I was all, “How dare you!” But when I talked to my mom about it, she was all, “Are you insane? Take the money!” So I did. I can make $600 an hour, no intercourse. I pegged guys who in the regular world are powerful in finance or law or business owners. That’s when I realized I could walk into a room of one hundred rich, powerful white men and not be afraid to open my mouth.
My sharing about being a cougar who pegs men got me a residency at the Ragdale Foundation. Which just tells you that there is no bad from which good can’t come.
I took the name Lily Be after I found out I was named after someone my father wanted to marry—Lydia. And my last name is also tied to him. Lily is what my brother called me when he was little, couldn’t pronounce “Lydia.” And “Be” is just—I am. I’m here. I exist. If you’re looking for me, here I am. v
The Stoop Thu 3/28, 7 PM, Rosa’s Lounge, 3420 W. Armitage, lilybe.com, $5.
Story Collider Sat 4/6, 7 PM, Hairpin Arts Center, 2810 N. Milwaukee, storycollider.org, $10.