The Storyteller’s Responsibility

Emanuel Padilla | 10.10.2018


In his Nobel-prize-winning book, El Hablador (The Storyteller), Mario Vargas Llosa tells of a young man named Saul, who abandons Peruvian society to become an Hablador (or Storyteller) of the Machiguenga. The Machiguenga is a tribe that lives as scattered family camps across the Peruvian-Amazon rather than live together as one complete community. In this unusual, dispersed way, the Machiguengas claim the entire forest as theirs, each family taking up their own corner of it and moving as food would require. Only one person traveled from family to family connecting them together. El Hablador.

For the Machiguenga, the storyteller is of sacred, indeed religious importance. The storyteller’s job was simple enough: to speak. “Their mouths were the connecting links of this society that the fight for survival had forced to split up and scatter… Thanks to the storytellers, fathers had news of their sons and brothers of their sisters … thanks to them they were all kept informed of the deaths, births, and other happenings in the tribe.” The storyteller did not only bring current news; he spoke of the past. He is the memory of the community, fulfilling a function like that of the troubadours of the Middle Ages. The storyteller traveled great distances to remind each member of the tribe that despite their miles of separation, they still formed one community, shared a tradition, beliefs, ancestors, misfortunes, and joys. The storytellers, writes Vargas Llosa, were the lifeblood that circulated through Machiguenga society giving it one interconnected and interdependent life.

The Machiguenga storyteller is “tangible proof that storytelling can be something more than mere entertainment … something primordial, something that the very existence of a people may depend on.”

Stories are at the core of every culture. They have the power to shape whole systems. Thomas King writes in The Truth about Stories: A Native Narrative (2003), “The truth about stories is that that’s all we are” (p. 32). King continues, “So you have to be careful with the stories you tell, and you have to watch out for the stories you are told” (p. 10). King’s words and Llosa’s novel reveal that being a storyteller is a grave responsibility, a calling above all others. For that reason, we sat down for a conversation with Hugo Perez, a former journalist for the NBC News Network and current owner of Local Boy Creative.

Hugo describes himself as a “storyteller for hire.” Our conversation with him took us through the history of his career and the ethics of storytelling today. We talked about recent “fake news” trends and spent time discussing some of the values that guide his storytelling. Reporters and Marketers are two kinds of Habladores (Storytellers) who shape society, and Hugo has been both. At World Outspoken, we are committing to actively making the city, creating culture, and pursuing a vision of justice and beauty. To do that, we need the help of storytellers like Hugo. As King reminds us, “Perhaps we shouldn’t be displeased with the ‘environmental ethics’ we have or the ‘business ethics’ or the ‘political ethics’ or any of the myriad of other codes of conduct suggested by our actions … After all, we’ve created them. We’ve created the stories that allow them to exist and flourish. They didn’t come out of nowhere. They didn’t arrive from another planet … Want a different ethic? Tell a different story” (p. 164).[1]

Hugo’s experiences equip us with ideas to consider and roles to reevaluate. Listen to this podcast to hear about the power of storytellers in the form of marketers and reporters.

About Hugo

Hugo Perez is a professional storyteller. He develops strategies and content for a variety of clients around the country as owner of a boutique creative agency in Chicago called Local Boy Creative. He is an experienced brand builder, creative catalyst, innovative strategist, and integrated marketer, having worked in senior roles at a variety of global companies and marketing agencies over the years. He began his career as a journalist at NBC Network News where he earned an Emmy-award for his work. Hugo has traveled and worked extensively all around the world and considers himself a “dreamer, a wild one, and a roaring lamb.”


[1] Credit must be given to Dr. Gene L. Green for first identifying the significant quotes from Tomas King’s book. You can access his original review of this book by following the subsequent link: “The Truth About Stories,” Green Trees, accessed September 14, 2018, https://www.genegreen.org/blog789123456789/2018/4/13/the-truth-about-stories.

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