Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Your Story, My Story

Dave Isay with Bill Davis

Dave Isay has put together the largest collection of human voices ever recorded.

More than 250,000 interviews are now stored in the Library of Congress under the auspices of StoryCorps, the organization he founded.  The interviews cover subjects such as love, family, death, and work.

"Listening is an act of love," Dave says, quoting the title of the first book of stories published by StoryCorps in 2007.  "There are so many stories that are hidden in plain sight all around us."

For example, the doctor who delivered his second child said to him (after he appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert), "I wish I had done something important enough with my life to be on the Colbert show."

In answer, he interviewed her.  The story of Austen Chen's courage and dedication now appears on on the latest StoryCorps CD and in the accompanying book, Callings: The Purpose and Passion of Work.  He calls this book "a love letter to professions that don't get thanked as often as they should."
Sandy Kim chatting with Dave Isay

My friend Sandy Kim took me to hear Dave speak tonight at the Crawford Family Forum in Pasadena, where the radio station KPCC is produced.  He was interviewed by Bill Davis, president of KPCC.

"Every life, every story matters equally and infinitely," he reminded the audience.

Dave began by doing documentaries and was influenced by listening to oral histories recorded by ethnomusicologists for the American FolkLife Center Archive starting in 1928.

His goal is to "give as many people as possible the chance to be heard."

"We're bombarded with untruth and with stories that just make you frightened," he says.  Instead, he is "collecting the wisdom of humanity" through stories.  

"Media put to its highest use can be the greatest power for good the world has ever seen," he believes.

It takes two people to record a story with StoryCorps: one to interview and one to be interviewed.  The result is "an act of honesty and love."  
Sandy Kim with Chassity Saldana and her grandfather

Six interviews were played during the course of the evening: 

  • a surgeon interviewing his high school science teacher
  • a daughter, Chassity Saldana, interviewing her mother who became an engineer after being a teen mom
  • a black NASCAR race car driver, Wendell Scott, who began in 1952 and faced down racism
  • two garbage truck drivers in New York City
  • a Latina migrant farmworker who became a librarian
  • the brother of black astronaut Ronald McNair, who died in the Challenger shuttle in 1986

Several of these were given animation to reach people who need visual as well as audio stories.  Watch them and many more on the StoryCorps website and on YouTube.

Now StoryCorps offers a downloadable app and a list of questions so anyone can interview a friend or family member and have their story preserved in the Library of Congress.

You can also go online and make a reservation to record an interview in a StoryCorps mobile booth in Chicago, Atlanta, or San Francisco.  Sitting together in a dark booth creates a very intimate space.  Sandy interviewed me about my mother in 2013 when the mobile booth was in Los Angeles.

"StoryCorps is much more about listening than speaking," says Dave.  "People say things like 'I love you,' 'Forgive me,' and 'I forgive you.'  Attention must be paid because we don't know about tomorrow."

Last Thanksgiving, StoryCorps asked high school kids to record their parents.  More than 50,000 interviews were received that weekend using the app.  

Listening to these stories teaches us "how we can be our best and highest selves," Dave concludes. 

StoryCorps is broadcast weekly on KPCC.  National Public Radio is the broadcast partner of StoryCorps, and the archive partner is the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

Special initiatives have been formed to gather stories from 9/11 families, LGBT persons, military families, Latinos, African-Americans, and families impacted by memory loss.

Here's the mission statement on the StoryCorps website:

StoryCorps’ mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.

We do this to remind one another of our shared humanity, to strengthen and build the connections between people, to teach the value of listening, and to weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that everyone’s story matters. At the same time, we are creating an invaluable archive for future generations.

No comments: