StoryCorps: The Conversation of a Lifetime

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010
story corps
Data is fine. Details are good. Information helps. But there's nothing like a good story. A good story can inform, impress or inspire--and sometimes just entertain. Whatever their purpose, stories bring us together as humans and open our minds to possibilities. In 2003 Dave Isay, a radio documentary producer and MacArthur fellow, founded StoryCorps with a mission to collect the stories of everyday people.

Isay started with a StoryBooth in Grand Central Station. He invited people to come in with a friend, family member, or colleague to interview. Interviews are about 40 minutes long and can follow the sample questions StoryCorps provides or the interviewers own queries. The goal of the StoryCorps organization is to capture, preserve and share recollections of ordinary Americans. Most of the stories are extra-ordinary. Children interviewing parents reveal rich insights and information. Married couples interviewing each other ask things they haven't thought of since their first date. Friends gain a new understanding of what makes the other operate as she does. Today over 50,000 narratives have been recorded, tracked, and stored at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

Today there are additional Booths in Atlanta and San Francisco as well as MobileBooths that travel the country collecting stories. The MobileBooths are airstream trailers outfitted with sound recording, an interview desk with microphones, and air conditioners that have to be turned off when recording to reduce the background noise. I know about the air conditioner situation because the day I took my friend, Karen, to be interviewed in the Ft. Worth booth was about 98 degrees and we worked up a sweat making that recording.

Karen and I had fun even in the heat. I asked her about her childhood, her parents, and growing up in Dallas. We've walked three days a week for almost thirteen years so there's not a lot we haven't talked about, but something about the interview setup triggered memories I'd never heard. A StoryCorps facilitator sits in on each interview and ours found Karen's memories so intriguing that she asked questions as well. At the end, Karen, as interviewee, received a disk that she calls the ethical will she's leaving her children.

Many of the stories collected by StoryCorps, which can be heard on the website, and each Friday on NPR, do have a quality of ethical will about them. Even those memories recollected and told to friends, not children, leave the listener with understanding of lessons learned. Check the website to see if there's a StoryBooth coming to your area or if you're traveling to place that has one set up and make an appointment. It's easy to do and really fun. If you can't make it to a StoryCorps booth, the organization has a home recording kit that you can use to gather oral histories of those you love and admire.

Stories are the glue that we pass to the next generation. It's the stories as much as blood that make us family.


Cool Judy!

I had no idea StoryCorps even existed until Judy told me about it. What a stroke of genius. Once again Ms. Dedmon has enlightened my mind with a good story about a good story. Great Mother's Day present.
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