He’s been in shows for Story District, Better Said Than Done, and The Moth. When he’s not busy captivating audiences with his stories of Russia and beyond, Sufian Zhemukhov is teaching college level history and recently, completed writing a book. Let’s take a look at this storytelling educator.
Sufian brings a Russian background with a family history in storytelling to the U.S. Every generation of his family has at least one person that is the keeper of the storytelling skill. His grandfather did this 2 generations before him. His uncle the generation after that. While it sounds like there a few people vying for that title now, I wouldn’t be surprised if Sufian is the keeper of the storytelling for this generation. The same way that storytelling telling has evolved worldwide, Sufian is able to see that change in his own family. Storytelling is typical defined in more traditional terms, with most of the stories with his grandfather recounting practical jokes. His uncle moved the family storytelling skill set to contain more character and plot. It wouldn’t be until Sufian got here in the US that he storytelling to another direction, personal narrative.
After moving to the US, Sufian worked on fitting in both in storytelling and the US culture. In 2014 Sufian being to find the path to travel. He attended Story District’s Sucker for Love annual show. Even though this piqued his interest, it wouldn’t be until 2018 that he would take classes with Story District. With the help of Amy Saidman and Stephanie Chapman Garibaldi, Sufian really began getting his storytelling back into high gear.
Since then, Sufian is in the process of making good things happen in the storytelling world. Sufian normally tries to tell a story at least once a month. Being a apart of the storytelling community has helped with connecting with people in general. He placed third in the National Storytelling Festival. He is regularly telling stories and hosting at Better Said Than Done storytelling shows run by Jessica Piscitelli Robinson. Sufian even stopped by and won one of The Moth monthly StorySlams.
Sufian doesn’t just do storytelling for storytelling sake. He teaches history at the university of Maryland. In that setting, we weaves in personal stories into the history lessons to give them a second life. The students themselves have let him know that they see he does more than teach the book, he helps them to see the actual people talked about.
When I asked Sufian if he would recommend storytelling to others and why, he had this to say: “There is a saying that art makes life worth living. Indeed, if you think about it, life does not make sense. Thousands of hours of my life do not make sense, including my daily hour commute to my work, waiting in line at the airport, and eight hours of daily sleep. In art, however, everything needs to make sense. And telling stories is the most important of all arts because that is a way to make sense of life or at least of some life-events. Storytelling is essential for our survival, for keeping us out of depression. Each of us needs to create stories about our life events and share them with friends and strangers, in order to affirm that our life has meaning and purpose. It became clear to me after moving to the United States where my lack of language skills and cultural knowledge made the life incomprehensible to me for many years. Only since a year ago, after I have started telling stories, life began making sense to me, again. When the audience laughs or applauds to what I tell them on the stage, I feel accepted by the community and being part of the American life.”
If you ever have heard Sufian tell a story you are always amazed at the easy, conversational tone that makes it seem as if what he is talking about is no big deal. But for him, storytelling is a big deal. Big enough it changed him.
Below, you can see one of Sufian Zhemukhov’s many stories. If you want to see him in person, July 2019 DC Fringe Festival will feature Sufian’s hour-long solo show, Flirting Like An American (https://www.capitalfringe.org/fringeartist/fringe-festival).