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FACULTY: Mary Lee Grisanti

Acting Chair, BFA Film

I was always a storyteller. Maybe it’s because I’m Italian and grew up with opera in the air. But I’m also Irish and heard Yeats before I knew what poetry was (Come away o human child/ to the waters and the wild….)

All our lives are filled with stories, from our earliest moments. Some are absolutely real but seem unbelievable: My grandfather fell in love with his best-friend’s fiancé (who became my grandmother) yet they remained best friends forever.  Some are blatantly unreal, but convincing in the moment: When I was little, I heard about a boy my age who did the same naughty things I did – but with terrible consequences.  Once, he refused to eat and actually shrank smaller and smaller until the dog ate him.  That was probably in my unconscious when I saw Jurassic Park.

Storytelling is more than a way to capture experience in words, as film is more than the sum of its moving images. It’s an ancient, essential, human activity – a way to understand ourselves by becoming other people, a way to understand others by becoming more fully ourselves.

I wrote my first screenplay when I was asked to adapt one of my own novels, so I have experienced first-hand how a story can come to life in totally different forms. In all my different courses, we are listening for the heartbeat of the story that lies somewhere just back of the words.  The trick is that the heartbeat that is hardest to hear is always our own, yet it is the life inside all of the stories we write, experience, remember and need.

I like to remind students that the world actually needs storytellers.  That stories make us believe in goodness when we are hurt, in justice when we’re cynical – even in changing the world, especially when it’s impossible.

BA – Smith College, Comparative Literature

MA – NYU, Comparative Literature

Teachers’ College, Columbia University, Philosophy in Education

Film and Television: Rare Earth (Columbia); Maria’s Diary –40 episodes (Focus Features International)

Theatre: LifeForce: A Holocaust Love Story (New England Drama Best Production; Edinburgh Fringe Festival)

Novels: Rare Earth (Doubleday), Mornings in Heaven, Promise in the Wind (Simon and Schuster)

Nonfiction: The Sesame Street Guide to Understanding Discipline; Stone Soup: A Teacher’s Guide to Early Childhood Literacy (Children’s’ Television Workshop)

Film and Literature I & II