Tuesday, November 22, 2011

National Day of Listening

Have you ever heard of StoryCorps?

If you listen to Morning Edition on your local NPR station a lot then your answer is most likely yes.

If not, StoryCorps is an oral history project - one of the largest of its kind - inviting people to visit one of their permanent booths or one of their traveling Silverstream trailers to record stories and interviews with loved ones. Stories that are then preserved on CD for participants as well as archived in the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

The point?

"We do this to remind one another of our shared humanity, strengthen and build the connections between people, teach the value of listening, and weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that every life matters."

Kinda like blogging...except the interviews sometimes get heard on the radio.

I had the distinct pleasure of recording an interview with Blind Betsy when one of the Silverstream trailers passed through Laramie, WY in 20081. It was a lot of fun! And I learned things about my mom - particularly as it pertains to her blindness as well as her father and mother - I'd never known.

Perhaps you're thinking something like this sounds boring or unimportant. Consider this...I never knew my grandparents - maternal or paternal. Granted, I met my mother's father one time when I was 12. He was grumpy and in pain most of the time and, as such, wasn't much in the mood to get to know a squirrely pre-teen girl. So I can't really count that encounter as "knowing" him.

Not long before I was born though, a few months before my paternal grandmother, Granny, died, my parents recorded a homemade StoryCorps-type interview with both Granny and her sister, my Great-Aunt Lue, who I would know and love with all my little girl heart. The interviewers were my parents, of course, in addition to my three older siblings.

That recording, even though I hadn't gotten to participate, is a cherished possession of mine. Better than snapshots, I could hear Granny's voice talking about what it was like to grow up on a dairy farm, to teach in a one-room school house, what it was like to raise children during the Great Depression. It made me feel closer to her. I couldn't know her in life but I could get to know her through other means than just 2-D photographs and stories relayed by other people.

In 2008, StoryCorps created a new national "holiday", the National Day of Listening, that falls the Friday after Thanksgiving each year. It is a holiday created to encourage family and friends to talk to one another, to listen to each other, to record homemade interviews and stories of their life experiences via any means they might have - computers, tape recorders, iPads, video.

I think this is pretty freaking cool.

This year, StoryCorps is encouraging folks to thank a favorite teacher. Not only are they encouraging home recordings but they are asking people to interact with the project via Facebook, Twitter, and their own Wall of Listening - to tell the project staff about why a favorite teacher is so special to the contributor.


"By listening closely to one another, we can help illuminate the true character of this nation reminding us all just how precious each day can be and how great it is to be alive."

Doesn't that sound way more important than shopping?

1: Hmmm...I really ought to duplicate that CD for all my siblings sometime soon.


alienbody said...

I've listened to some of the StoryCorp stories when they come on NPR via Facebook (I know, I know) and I love them. It's given me an idea for my Friday NaBlo post about teacher/mentor. Also, the idea of connecting with humanity reminds me of this other project I'm following, check him out (he's a friend of my neighbor) and I think it is an amazing adventure: http://thiswildidea.com/

Michael said...

What a cool program. I'll have to listen for this because I love stuff that shows us how much all of us different people are really alike. I used to have a friend, many years ago, and his father was a Holocaust survivor. He had plans to interview his dad with the goal of shaing the tape with his yet-to-be-born children. I don't know if he ever did, but I hope he did.

Unknown said...

I absolutely loved this post. I had heard of StoryCorps, but I'm going to check into it a bit further thanks to you.
I only knew one grandmother out of all my grandparents, so I would give anything to be able to hear my other grandparents' voices, my dad's mom in particular. Everyone says she was a remarkable woman, but it isn't the same as actually hearing her voice.
Thanks, Jane, for sharing this.

Anonymous said...

Are the stories available as a podcast?

Can you submit your recording to StoryCorps?

I'd considered a personal website along these lines, sort of an audio blog, based on asking random people I interact with to tell their story.

Just Jane said...

StoryCorps podcasts are available here: http://storycorps.org/listen/

StoryCorps does not accept recordings for archiving made outside their own facilities. To check where the mobile tour outreach is headed: http://storycorps.org/initiatives/mobile-tour/

As an aside, Anonymous, I would love to do something akin to that myself. If I know you in person or can get to know you in person, let's talk.

Anonymous said...

No! My idea! Not sharing!!!

However, we can discuss latter

Anonymous said...

I love this! I think that at our cores, we are all very much alike, so these stories are likely to be meaningful for so many. And taking the time to interview and record family members? Just wonderful. What I wouldn't give to hear my mom's voice again.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and a handful of years ago, I got in touch with a teacher who had meant a lot to me. I told him just how much he'd helped me to grow, both academically and as a person, and thanked him for putting so much love into his job. I know that he appreciated hearing it and to be honest, I loved telling him.