By JOANNE RASI
Last year my sister and I came to StoryCorps with my then-91-year-old grandmother. We had this fantastic interview, in which my grandma was candid and funny and loving.
Yesterday she died.
I just took out my StoryCorps CD and noticed the date, a year to the day. Tomorrow will be her funeral. I could only listen to about 20 seconds before bursting into tears. But I am so grateful that I have this. Sure, I could have taped her anytime in the last 41 years. But I didn't. Now the reward is so huge. Everyone should do StoryCorps—because we don't live forever.
- Sharon DeLevie-Orey
Grand Central Terminal StoryCorps Booth
StoryCorps, a national initiative to encourage Americans to record one another's stories in sound, began recording people's stories—like the one quoted above—in 2003 with a single recording booth located in Grand Central Terminal in New York. StoryCorps launched a new initiative, a nationwide tour of mobile recording booths in May 2005 at the Library of Congress.
For 10 days the Library hosted the kickoff of the first year of the American tour, with two Airstream trailers fitted with recording booths parked on the plaza in front of the James Madison Memorial Building. The trailers will spend the rest of the year traveling from town to town, spreading the StoryCorps experience across the country.
"StoryCorps will provide America with important social documentation on a grassroots, nationwide scale that mirrors what the historic Works Progress Administration (WPA) Federal Writers' Project accomplished more than half a century ago," said Peggy Bulger, director of the American Folklife Center in the Library of Congress. "We are delighted to be partners with StoryCorps and to house a new generation of America's stories."
The soundproof recording booths create the opportunity for people to take part in broadcast-quality oral history interviews with their relatives or friends under the guidance of a trained facilitator. The facilitator helps to select interview questions and handles all of the technical aspects of the recording. At the end of the 40-minute session, the participants receive a CD of their interview, and with their permission a second copy becomes a permanent part of the American Folklife Center's archives.
StoryCorps is one of the largest oral narrative projects in the nation. By documenting everyday history and the unique stories of grassroots America, the collection is rapidly becoming no less than an oral history of America at the beginning of the 21st century. Scholars, researchers, the public and the great-great-great grandchildren of the participants will always be assured access to the voices of today's America.
StoryCorps captures the memories of the real America. A granddaughter interviewing her grandmother. A husband interviewing his wife. Sisters interviewing each other. StoryCorps creates an opportunity for families and friends to reach across boundaries and beyond conventions, to uncover the unspoken and the undiscovered, to forge new bonds, and to come to new understandings of their own and other human relationships. The stories, emotions, laughs, surprises and honesty revealed in these interviews are reminders of the many diverse, complicated, beautiful and unexpected aspects of "ordinary" American lives—and the fact that each ordinary life has extraordinary moments that will be preserved in the StoryCorps recordings.
StoryCorps is the brainchild of MacArthur Fellow Dave Isay and his award-winning documentary company, Sound Portraits Productions. His vision is for StoryCorps to model—in spirit and in scope—the WPA Federal Writers' Project of the 1930s, which recorded oral-history interviews with everyday Americans across the country. These recordings, also housed at the American Folklife Center, remain the single most important collection of American voices gathered to date. StoryCorps will build and expand on that work, creating an aural record of the 21st century.
"Over the past year and a half, we've seen the profound effect StoryCorps has had on the lives of those who have participated in the project, and we've seen the power that these stories have had on the millions who have heard them," said Isay. "We believe that listening is an act of love. StoryCorps will engage communities, teach participants to become better listeners, foster intergenerational communication and help Americans appreciate the strength in the stories of everyday people they find all around them."
The kickoff at the Library included interviews with a mix of everyday people, national figures and local personalities. For example, Mickey Hart, the percussionist for the Grateful Dead; James H. Billington, the Librarian of Congress; Chuck Brown, the father of Go-Go music; Stetson Kennedy, Ku Klux Klan buster, folklorist and author; the family operating Washington, D.C.'s famed Ben's Chili Bowl; folk musician Tom Paxton; Charlie Brotman, the announcer for the Inaugural Parade and for the Washington Senators' games; and Sue Mingus, widow of jazz musician Charles Mingus, all participated.
Special guests Danny and Annie Perasa, whose humorous story has been heard on National Public Radio (NPR), traveled from New York City to be part of the kickoff celebration in Washington.
After leaving the Library, the MobileBooths set out in opposite directions across the country—one taking an Eastern route and the other covering the Western states. Visits in each city or town last between two and three weeks, with about 100 interview slots available at each location. This inaugural tour lasted one year and stoped at nearly 45 cities. In each tour city, local public radio stations and local folklorists participated in the project. Segments from selected interviews are also being aired nationally on NPR's "Morning Edition."
In July 2005, the second permanent StoryCorps booth opened on the site of the World Trade Center. Over the course of the 10-year project, StoryCorps plans to open more StoryBooths—both mobile and stationary—across the country.
The project partners include the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, NPR, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and Saturn. To learn more about StoryCorps and the tour of the MobileBooths, visit its Web site at www.storycorps.net or contact Joanne Rasi at the American Folklife Center at email@example.com.
Joanne Rasi is a consultant on special projects in the American Folklife Center.