September 7, 2017

She combines storytelling and a meal to create a cultural exchange in Detroit

Storyteller Cornetta Lane developed 'Dinner for 30' to bring together her community through food and fellowship

Storyteller Cornetta Lane hopes her new series, Dinner for 30, will bridge cultural gaps through storytelling and cooking. Photo courtesy of Cornetta Lane

I sat in the kitchen chair, watching Grandma Laura pour a bunch of salt in a pot of water.

“Grandma, why you pour salt in the water?”

“Well, I’m cooking rice. I added salt to bring out the flavor.”

“Oh, how did you learn that?”

“It’s just something you learn along the way.”

I was 12 years old at the time. I didn’t know much about cooking. I barely knew anything about my grandmother. I only had the facts. Laura migrated to Detroit from Tennessee. She raised six children as a single parent. She was 5-foot-2 with a medium frame, wide smile, and a gold capped tooth.

I knew this much about her, but I didn’t know her favorite color, or her favorite childhood memory, or anything about her mother. It’s not because she wouldn’t share that information with me; it’s because I never asked.

The author, center, with her grandmother and her cousin in 1992. Photo courtesy of Cornetta Lane

In my senior year of college, I took an Oral Traditions class and was required to interview, transcribe, and write an analysis of the experience. In the middle of interviewing a young black woman about her life, I suddenly became ashamed. She knew her family’s history very well. While I learned about her history, I didn’t know my own.

That same day, I wrote down some questions for my grandmother. I decided to interview her, but I was too late. Laura suffered two strokes that affected her ability to speak. I never got a chance to hear her story. It is the single most thing I regret in life.

Collecting family stories and recipes are ways to preserve family history. In fact, it is partially the reason why I have developed a new storytelling initiative, Dinner for 30.

Dinner for 30 is a multi-sensory experience that encourages people to bridge cultural gaps through live storytelling and cooking.

Essentially, a cook will be invited to prepare a dish that is connected to a fond memory and tell a story about it. At the end of the story, the audience of 30 gets to taste the dish.

I will host and record five events and will design a Detroit story cookbook.

I had the opportunity to test out this idea with my peers at the National Arts Strategy Creative Communities Fellowship and received feedback that helped me fine-tune the proposed experience.

I am currently planning a final prototype of the dinner, and with new insights and a fantastic line-up of cooks, we will officially launch the Dinner for 30 series in February 2018.

In the meantime, our Kickstarter campaign will begin on Sept. 12. To learn more, and get a link Kickstarter page when it is live, please visit our website.

Cornetta Lane


Cornetta Lane is a storyteller. She courageously told her first story live on stage at the Secret Society of Twisted Storytellers. Cornetta shared an experience about grappling with the unfortunate passing of her father and realized that sharing her story facilitated her grieving and healing process. Since then, she quit her full-time job to focus on telling stories and helping people craft and tell their own stories through her community projects Pedal to Porch and Dinner for 30.

Pedal to Porch is a neighborhood bike ride in Detroit that includes stops along a route where residents use their front porch as a stage to tell their story. And, Dinner for 30 is a live storytelling and cooking event.

Both projects are reasons why Cornetta gets out of bed every morning.