David and Ilyssa Kyu of Kyu Collective had a simple idea to travel the country and search for stories to read around a campfire. After months of planning and a successful Kickstarter campaign, the two are finally embarking on their trip to visit some of the most beautiful parks the country has to offer. You can keep up with the pair on their Instagram, Facebook, and website.
This summer, Ilyssa and I will travel the country, looking for great stories from five National Parks across the country, for our anthology called Campfire Stories. We’re packing the car now and in less than one week, we'll start a four month road trip. The idea grew out of our own curiosity for stories that could connect us to the outdoor escapes that we had been seeking in the margins of our life. As our curiosity and wanderlust grew, we realized the only way to scratch the itch would be to make a change to our 9-to-5 lives. So step by step, over the course of the last year and a half, we've been building working towards realizing this trip. Many steps have led us to this date of departure, and there are so many to thank along the way.
We started by admitting what we don't know. We reached into our creative networks to sit down with anthropologists, storytellers, folklorists, National Park employees, and independent publishers. That's what put is in a coffee shop with Nic Esposito, founder of the Head and the Hand Press. We had no clue how one takes an idea all the way to a published book, and Nic was a gracious and capable guide to this world. He explained everything from book agents to Barnes & Noble. And the idea struck a chord with Nic, who himself was dreaming of one day road tripping with his family across the country's National Parks. After peeking into the world of publishing, we decided that we didn't want to work with anyone other than the Head and the Hand Press.
With this support, we now needed to test our process. What stories were we looking for? How would we collect them? Who would speak to us? We knew we needed to prove the concept before we upended our lives. So we kicked off the project by spending October 2015 in Acadia National Park. This month was hugely informative, allowing us to discover, and tweak our process for the remaining parks. We learned that laying the groundwork with a few strategic partnerships would connect us to the communities and individuals we sought to hear from. And that we needed to know the history of the place, and be present in that place, to build trust with those that would share old and new stories, both personal and cultural.
But still, while the book seemed like a great idea to us, we needed to know that an audience was out there. The first inkling came with a "Campfire Storytelling Night," hosted by the Jesup Memorial Library in Bar Harbor, Maine. With their support (thank you Jesup!), we pitched the event as an invitation to the community to come share their best stories with us around a fire - s'mores on us! But the size-able audience that attended came out to hear stories, not tell them. Now we could plainly see - even in an age of great storytelling, people are hungry for stories around a campfire.
Our Kickstarter campaign to fund the printing and production of the book was our next test. We made a video, put together a pitch, and set it off, to see if/how a larger public would respond. It. Was. So. Much. Work. We emailed everyone we knew, we pitched to press outlets. We spent one week at the Philadelphia Flower Show (2016 theme: National Parks), sharing our project with anyone who stopped by. 30 days later, we were funded at 135% of our goal! With backers from all over the country, and even from Australia, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and beyond! We discovered that the lore from America's National Parks extends across the world.
And that brings us to this moment. We’re fresh off a trip to Washington D.C., attending the 2016 National Learning Summit as guests of the Every Kid in a Park initiative. We’re still giddy from having met Jon Jarvis, Director of the National Parks! And as we explore different ways to pack our car, we're looking back to the hundreds of steps that allowed us to take this journey. For the next four months, we'll be searching for stories in the Smoky Mountains, the Rocky Mountains, in Zion, Yosemite, and Yellowstone - from Philadelphia to California and back. We're grateful to the Head and the Hand Press for showing us the publishing ropes, for all those who advised on our process, and to our friend who will keep our animals well and well-fed back home. We’re grateful to the kind individuals who welcomed us in Acadia and shared their stories, and grateful to all who share our curiosity for our natural spaces, and who will join us to build a deeper relationship to our parks, and our outdoor spaces.