NOTE: Aspen Words was formerly called the Aspen Writers’ Foundation. In 2011, we partnered with Global Nomads Group to bring Arab and Jewish high school students of Israel together for the first time to participate in a Story Swap.

Story Swap uses storytelling and creative writing to build empathy and understanding between diverse populations.

“I’ve never seen individuals bond so quickly and so permanently.”  —John Annis, Senior Vice President, Community Foundation of Sarasota County, 2015 Ascend Fellow

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Story sharing is one of the most powerful ways we connect to the world, to ourselves, and to the human experience. During a Story Swap, we create a safe space to tell stories, listen to the stories of others, and build empathy for one another. 

Since 2007, Aspen Words has facilitated Story Swaps locally, nationally and internationally, for youth and adults, including the following groups:

• Bonfils-Stanton Livingston Fellowship Program
• Educators at the 2016 Colorado Education Initiative Conference. Following the Story Swap, 100% of participants agreed with the statement, “I am thinking about approaching my work in a new way.” 
• Aspen Institute Ascend Fellows during their first Fellowship Seminar in 2015
• Middle school students from Crest Academy in Salida, CO. 
• Teachers from the Roaring Fork Valley and Islamabad, Pakistan
• Local artists and writers from the Red Brick Center for the Arts and the Anderson Ranch Arts Center
Arab and Jewish Israeli high school students in Haifa and Nazareth, Israel
High school students from Port-au-Prince, Haiti and New Orleans, Louisiana
• Aspen High School students and students from Uintah River High School on the Ute Reservation in Fort Duchesne, Utah
• Employees of The Aspen Institute as part of a professional development experience
And many more…


Download an informational one-sheet that outlines the Story Swap process.


“My Story Swap experience as part of my Aspen Institute Ascend Fellowship was one of the most impactful sessions I have ever participated in. It was carefully and thoughtfully presented and the results were absolutely incredible.…I’ve never seen individuals bond so quickly and so permanently. As a retired Marine Corps Sergeant Major, the idea of being that vulnerable wasn’t something I was excited about – now I can’t imagine not doing it. It truly changed me.” 
—John Annis, Senior Vice President, Community Foundation of Sarasota County, 2015 Ascend Fellow 

“The Story Swap really broke down my students’ fears of writing. Here is what the students said they learned: “If you hear it from someone else’s point of view it makes you think more about the story,” “I had a lot more to say about my story than I thought,” “I have events in my life that happened to other people too,” “People view my writing differently than I do,” “I have lots of good stories.”   
—Deb Bass O’Brien, Teacher, Crest Academy, Salida, CO

“We lived the same experience. That’s good, because you know it’s not only you. It’s someone other, and you want to help that person. That’s good. I think it’s good to write somebody’s story. Because you’ll feel exactly what he was feeling…This story becomes your story. That’s good. And you’ll feel what he was feeling. That’s good.”
—Sebastien, 14 years old, Haiti

“Before the presentation [my partner] told me that it’s her first time telling her classmates and her educator about her story so it was my responsibility not to make them think in a wrong way about her, or to make it misunderstood [sic].”
—Ayat [Natalie] Shammout, 16 years old, Israel

“The most direct application of imagination for good that I’ve ever seen.”
—David Wroblewski, acclaimed author of the bestselling The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

“An escape from the jail of the self, leading to the ultimate adventure – seeing life through the eyes of another.”
—Tobias Wolff, PEN/Faulkner Fiction Award-winner

“One of the most profound experiences of my life.”
—Rob Spillman, editor of Tin House magazine

“Deeply moving, informative, and touching to the human spirit in ways which are not so easily achieved via other routes.”
—Dipesh Navsaria, Aspen Institute Ascend Fellow, 2015

“Renee Prince and Maurice LaMee did an amazing job both as colleagues designing the session with us and in delivering it. The care and creativity they put into it were obvious – and paid off with a transformative experience. They far exceeded our expectations, and we wanted to recognize the quality of their work and the exemplary collaborative experience.”
—Anne Mosle, Ascend Executive Director & VP of the Aspen Institute Policy Programs


Contact Nicole Stanton.