Online storytelling platform Istoria aims to connect Yale and New Haven
Co-founders Elijah Maletz SOM ’22 and Pranav Daryanani SOM ’22 spoke to the News about the role of storytelling in community bonding and self-expression.
Winnie Jiang, Contributing Illustrator
When the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, Elijah Maletz SOM ’22 and Pranav Daryanani SOM ’22 began sharing Google Docs with a group of other storytellers as a way to counteract the initial wave of isolation.
In this initial phase, members would send stories they wrote and comment on each other’s work. Less than a year later, istoria.io was a full-fledged online platform for literature enthusiasts hoping to share their writing and connect.
With an emphasis on the community-building abilities of creative writing, the platform serves as an outlet for anyone looking to bond over shared interests of both reading and writing. The team behind Istoria also hosts literary events around New Haven that cater to members of the Yale and New Haven communities.
“The pandemic was an introspective period and Istoria’s events addressed the desire that many of us had to express ourselves authentically and to connect with others,” Daryanani wrote in an email to the News.
Istoria’s presence and influence began to spread when current leadership member Beckett Morris, who is a junior at Southern Connecticut State University, started participating in and advocating for writing events in local venues around New Haven.
With almost a year under their belt, the leadership team began hosting virtual writing and reading events in the spring of 2021.
“People were also so hungry for personal connection in the most restrictive periods of quarantine, and our first reading events really underscored the power of storytelling to connect with others,” Maletz wrote.
The platform’s goal, while still oriented towards expression and community, expanded to prioritize the Yale-New Haven relationship. The current leadership team said that they felt that the two communities are often set at odds with one another, a trend that they hope Istoria will work to reverse.
Historically, the majority of Yale’s arts and literature events occurred on campus, which could make them less accessible to the larger public. By hosting all of their events off campus, Istoria hopes to foster a more inclusive, welcoming atmosphere for New Haven residents.
Maletz said that the differences in “schedules and methods of communication” for students as opposed to working people and families in New Haven are added factors in the group’s concerns about accessibility.
“[W]e haven’t completely cracked how to open the doors and make Istoria as accessible as possible for more New Haven residents,” Maletz wrote.
Despite these concerns, around half of all participants remain unaffiliated with Yale, which Maletz said marks higher than most Yale-affiliated activities.
Amid the difficulties of integrating the two communities, Daryanani said that these challenges do not detract from the group’s overall vision.
“[A]s Istoria grew and our reach expanded, we wanted to provide people the opportunity to find the courage to be creative and provide a space where they could explore other worldviews within their community,” Daryanani wrote.
Learning from and collaborating with those of different backgrounds can initiate a spark of understanding both on campus and beyond, said Anna Eapen SOM ’23, who serves on the current Istoria leadership team.
However, in addition to logistical concerns, Istoria and its leadership team continue to struggle with participant hesitation about the vulnerability required to share their work.
“One of the biggest challenges we face is instilling confidence in people that their stories, poems, art, or music are worthy of presenting to an audience—particularly if they have not done so before,” Peter Bransden SOM ’23 wrote in an email to the News. “Truly, everyone has a story to tell, it’s just a case of getting it out of them.”
The team leaders, he said, prioritize collective learning through storytelling, which includes teaching participants how to balance their school or work with their personal lives.
Eapen told the News that they plan to expand their network across New Haven’s communities to ensure that anyone who might be interested is able to attend their events.
“I deeply believe that we connect with ourselves, others, and the world around us through stories,” Maletz wrote. “Many of my most powerful moments from my two years in New Haven were listening to friends, classmates, and strangers sharing poems, stories, songs, and reflections at Istoria events.”
Istoria originated within the Yale’s School of Management in 2020, and now works under the umbrella of the Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking.