Curiosity kept the cat alive


Bob Dotson has never really grown up, at least that’s how he feels. Most of the time, he feels like a curious 17-year-old with a neverending urge to learn. His curiosity, he said, has led him to a lifetime of finding stories to be told.

From a young age, Dotson appreciated good stories and interesting characters.  At eight years old he would sit and listen to the story of how during his grandfather’s honeymoon, he reunited with his brother whom he had lost contact with for years. In his teenage years, Dotson hung out with two janitors in the basement of the shoe store he worked in, just to listen to the stories they told. His appreciation for stories is what led him to a career in storytelling.

“It’s the fact that I’ve never really lost my curiosity and every day I wake up and say ‘What did I learn today that I didn’t know before?’” Dotson said.

Dotson is a national correspondent on “Today” and is known as the host of  “American Story,” a segment that he said tells the stories of seemingly ordinary people doing extraordinary things. He said he created “American Story” because ordinary people are never in the spotlight, and telling their stories is important

“The only two things you absolutely have to know in this world are how to tell a story and how to add,” Dotson said. “Telling a good story is essential and curiosity is in the center of that because no matter what you do in life, you’re going to have to explain something to somebody else who has no experience in whatever the subject is.”

Bob Dotson, host of “American Story” spoke in the East Academic Building on Wednesday, Oct. 1 about his experiences traveling to tell the stories of ordinary Americans. / photo by Matt Duchesne
Bob Dotson, host of “American Story” spoke in the East Academic Building on Wednesday, Oct. 1 about his experiences traveling to tell the stories of ordinary Americans. / photo by Matt Duchesne

A Webster Groves native, Dotson spent the week of Sept. 29 attending his 50th high school reunion at Webster Groves High School, celebrating his birthday and mentoring Webster University students on his methods for storytelling. He called the experience overwhelming.

Dotson spoke at Webster on Oct. 1 to a crowd of around 40 people in the East Academic Building. His lecture was about his experiences working on “American Story.” He said ordinary people have blueprints for how they go about their life, and those blueprints hold the secrets to how everyone can co-exist peacefully.

“On ‘American Story’ I always make a promise: If you stick with me, you’re going to learn something about this guy and he’s probably a lot like you, and at the end you might have a blueprint for how to solve something,” Dotson said.

That is one of Dotson’s methods for telling a good story, but it always starts with the search for a story to tell. Dotson receives around 600 story suggestions per month and it is still difficult for him to pick the right story to tell.

Jus Wagner was an audience member for Dotson’s lecture, who was looking to have her story told. Wagner said she struggled with abuse throughout her life but found peace with spirituality. She attends three different churches and is an aspiring author.

“Bob tells American stories,” Wagner said. “And I want him to tell mine.”

However, Dotson said people who are looking to have their stories told will usually find a way to do it on their own.

“Most people walk around with an invisible sign that says ‘I’m the only important person in this room.’ They come up to me and ask me to tell their story and most of the time, I say no,” Dotson said. “But I’m looking around for the guy who says ‘I don’t know why you’re here, I never did anything,’ because usually I found out that there’s something he did do.”

In May of 2014, Dotson surpassed four million miles of travel as a storyteller. Even though he spends a lot of his time traveling for “American Story,” he said he feels like he has never worked a day in his life because storytelling is his hobby. Dotson believes that in order to have a lifestyle like his, family and friends are the only hobbies one can have, but he doesn’t want to stop telling stories any time soon. And if asked about his favorite story, he has one response:

“I’ve come to the conclusion that my favorite story is the next one. To me, that’s the fun of life,” Dotson said.

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