Spinning a Blue Yarn

Cantabrigians call their city the People’s Republic and, as befits such a town, one of its officials conducts business with
By Justina L. Wong

Cantabrigians call their city the People’s Republic and, as befits such a town, one of its officials conducts business with blue butterflies painted on his palms. Brother Blue, or Hugh Morgan Hill ’48, is the official storyteller for both Cambridge and Boston and he has both ribbons in his hair and a business card that offers his services as “Storyteller, Street Poet, Soul Theater.”

Idealism does not daunt Brother Blue. In fact, no dream is too big for him. His words are both blunt and cliché. “Love will overcome all in this world. Love’s gonna win. Nothing can stop this. There will be these fools that come along, and I don’t mind being that fool, who is trying to express that,” he says. “I have this madness—volition—this chosen madness to believe that I can change this world.” And within the world of Harvard Square, where one recent day Brother Blue stopped on the street to console a man mourning the death of his father, this storyteller by nature and by trade is changing some things.

Brother Blue aims high but attempts to accomplish his goal of changing the world by starting small and reaching out to one person at a time. Or, at least, a roomful of people at a time. These days he offers free storytelling workshops to the public every Tuesday night at the Episcopal Divinity School, a seminary located on 99 Brattle St. Hill also performs live on Cambridge Community Television every Wednesday and Sunday at 6:30 p.m.

Though he now has a classroom and a TV audience, Brother Blue started in 1968 standing barefoot on the raw pavement and bricks of Cambridge—and he plans to continue for as long as he can.

While his pursuits are unconventional, he followed a relatively traditional academic path. After Harvard College, he earned a master’s degree in drama from Yale, and he received a Ph.D. from Union Institute with a multi-disciplinary project sharing stories with prison inmates. Pointing to his blue suede shoes, Brother Blue laughs and says that he got his Ph.D. by traveling to jails “to rock the house.”

His stories tumble out spontaneously and unrehearsed. He ignores specific questions in favor of animal rights discourses, rhetoric about changing the world, borderline flirtatious remarks about beauty and fingernail polish and gushing adoration of Cornel West. Brother Blue snaps his fingers, speaks in rhythm, drops to whispers, scrunches his face on the verge of tears, stands up to “jive and dance.” His continuous energy is an imposing, persistent vibe in the room. Especially when he’s asking “Do you think you’re beautiful?” Also, when he says that Don Quixote and St. Francis of Assisi are his personal heroes.

Although Brother Blue does try to pass on his art to others, he says storytelling is not something he thinks he can teach through a certain blueprint or set of directions. “Storytelling is a way to be, a way of being, a way of living,” he explains.

For Brother Blue, this way of living is made possible, in part, by his wife and agent Ruth E. Hill, who works on oral history projects at the Schlesinger Library. Theirs is a love story and business partnership: He gushes while recounting their courtship, and she, more detail-oriented, makes sure he shows up for his appointments on time when the butterflies and passersby get to be too much of a distraction.

For The Moment