What if there was a place where all our stories were collected? A place where you could muck around and hear your great-grandfather talk about the day he arrived from the old country, or your distant cousin recount how he met his mysterious playwright best friend? Or, how about a repository of oral histories of teachers, military service members, or just everyday people? One day that library will exist—for Americans, at least—thanks to StoryCorps, a U.S. nonprofit organization that is one of the largest oral-history projects of its kind.
Founded in 2003, Storycorps has collected over 40,000 interviews from more than twice as many participants in its “Storybooths,” semi-permanent recording booths. One copy of the stories from Storybooth sessions goes to the storytellers, and one copy is archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Some of the conversations are even aired on NPR’s Morning Edition, reaching an audience of millions.
Its storytellers come from a diverse pool: They are mothers, bus drivers, people who have served in the military, teachers, and people with Alzheimers. They are anyone who has a story to tell (and if you ask us or Storycorps, that’s everyone).
Storycorps’ main instrument for collecting American stories are through its website. Anyone can submit a story that they record, and the ones they have collected are completely remarkable. They confirm that everyone has passions, dreams, hopes and failures in their lives. You can also hear the interviewer and interviewees form tighter bonds and share unprecedented moments of intimacy; in other words, they confirm the unique power of being given an audience to stories —people are made to feel like they are special, and that they are part of a shared humanity.
On the importance of listening and making space for everyday life stories, Storycorps founder Dave Isay says, “We all want to know that our lives have mattered and that we won’t ever be forgotten. If we take the time to listen, we’ll find wisdom, wonder and poetry in the lives and stories all around us.”
As an alternative to Black Friday shopping sprees, Storycorps found a way to get something truly priceless: Today is the fifth National Day of Listening. On this new holiday, Storycorps asks everyone to take a few minutes to record an interview with a loved one. They’ve provided amazing resources on their website, including a Do-it-yourself instruction guide, a question generator, and tips on what recording equipment to use. Participants are invited to upload their stories on a SoundCloud listening wall.
On the 2012 Listening Wall, partners Tonia and Elaine talk about their love: Tonia says, “It started far, far away. We started 3,000 miles apart, and now we’re 2 feet apart in our tiny apartment in Brooklyn….On our 36-hour date, you came to New York and we romped around…. Underneath all the tsotchkes at the Cubby Hole [bar], drunk on a little Jameson, and we talked about our passions and our dreams. It was a magical night.” I love their story’s unassuming simplicity and universality. Hopefully the Wall will be completely plastered with more stories after tomorrow’s holiday. We hope it will include yours, too.
In Canada, it’s not our Thanksgiving weekend, or our National Day of Listening, but we are grateful for the privilege of documenting stories each day we are at work. Happy Thanksgiving to our American family and friends, and thank you for letting us listen.