The first time I saw playwright and storyteller Kevin Kling speak was at Gustavus Adolphus College was right around Valentine's Day a few years ago. There was one story that still stands out in my mind.
The story starts with a girl Kling had a crush on in Miss Jensen's fifth-grade class and ends with a couple he had read about who were killed by a train after the wife's shoe had gotten stuck in the tracks. The husband had stayed with her and held her as the train approached and struck them.
The phrase that ran through the story, connecting Kling's experience with puppy love and the devotion of the couple, was “one more second, just one more second.” He was describing the longing of wanting nothing more than spending just one more second with the one you love, no matter the cost.
In the span of five minutes and the whispered repetition of one powerful phrase, many of us in the audience were wiping tears from our cheeks, with knots the size of golf balls in our throats. I remember thinking, “That is one amazing storyteller.”
I've seen Kling several times since then in the Twin Cities, the last time with Mason Jennings, and each time I've left inspired with dozens of little scenes playing through in my mind. So I was thrilled recently to be scrolling through area events calendars online and to learn that Kling will be a featured storyteller Monday night at the New Ulm Public Library.
Kris Wiley, assistant director, said the library is partnering with United Way for the annual Life Living Series. The series, which is bringing in authors and storytellers to New Ulm, is focusing on Minnesota stories. Kling, a Minnesota native who often writes of his home-state heritage, was a perfect choice.
“We're so excited,” said Wiley, who added that the library is creating an intimate setting for the series this year. “It came together even better than I expected.”
Best-selling crime writer William Kent Krueger, best known for the Cork O'Connor series, was the first featured author in January. Lorna Landvik, author of such books as the bestselling "Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons,” will conclude the series Feb. 17.
“We couldn't have asked for a more engaging series,” Wiley said.
When I interviewed Kling in 2005, he said a good storyteller makes an audience think more about their own experiences than his. And a good storyteller loves it when members of the audience run up to him to share those memories after the show, he said.
“You know it went well when they come up and say, 'That happened to me!'” said Kling, an Osseo native who graduated from Gustavus with a theater degree in 1979.
Kling's main goal, he said, is always to move his audience through the power of storytelling, a craft he's been working to hone for decades and a career that only betters with age.
“It's even getting greater and greater,” Kling said at the time. “As you get older, your passions change and the balance shifts more to craft. You get better at how it works, what not to be freaked out about, how to create and how to move an audience.”
If you go What Life Living Series with author and playwright Kevin Kling, best known for his commentary on National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" When 7 p.m. Monday at the New Ulm Public Library The series concludes with author Lorna Landvik, 7 p.m. Feb. 17. Admission Free and open to the public. Info 507-359-8334; newulmlibrary.org