StoryCorps, the national project that inspires people to record one another’s stories in sound, and then archives the results at the Library of Congress, got its start in 2003, when award-winning radio producer David Isay opened the first “StoryBooth” recording studio in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal.
Modeled on the Works Progress Administration’s oral history interviews with everyday Americans in the 1930s, StoryCorps aims to expand that collection of voices to include 21st century participants and perspectives. Since 2003, two traveling “MobileBooth” recording studios have fanned across the land, visiting 60 towns in 39 states, from rural outposts to urban megalopoli. Each Friday, an edited interview is heard on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Now, mark your calendars! Among the MobileBooth’s 2007 stops is Providence’s Burnside Park (Kennedy Plaza). The local partner, the John Nicholas Brown Center for the Study of American Civilization (JNBC) at Brown University, is currently scheduling interviews for June 7-30. If you’ve always wanted to ask your great uncle about his life as a quahogger, or your best friend about the year his mother ran off with the circus, or the owner of your favorite diner about her 50 years in business, here’s your chance.
“Today, we rarely take 40 minutes to tell or listen to a story,” observes Julia Lazarus, a graduate student in the JNBC’s Public Humanities program and one of the project’s local directors. “We talk in snippets, and almost never have a chance to sit down and hear each other’s stories — not to impart a lesson, or give advice — but just to learn about one another. And people don’t always think of themselves as having a story. But StoryCorps’ message is that the random stories shared over coffee are part of our culture and history, and deserve to be preserved.”
To set up an interview, learn more, volunteer to assist in June, donate toward production costs, or help make the interviews available to the Rhode Island public after the MobileBooth has gone, contact or call 401.863.1177.
In a landscape rife with sites of self-exposure — like YouTube, MySpace, and blogs — Lazarus says StoryCorps is about something else. “It’s not one person confessing to an impersonal, infinite audience; it’s two people in a room. And it’s very lo-fi — no visuals, only sound. With other cues stripped away, you focus on the words, the voices, the pauses — you hear the process. Things come out in a one-to-one conversation that wouldn’t otherwise. It’s just different.”
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