An elderly New York man with Alzheimer's tries to remember the names of all of his children, even though two of them sit before him.
In Kansas City, Mo., a 15-year-old girl with Down Syndrome asks her father, "Dad, how did you feel when I was born?"
They are conversations between family members and friends ' amusing anecdotes, painful recollections, gripping narratives, joyful memories and humorous asides ' and to date, StoryCorps has recorded nearly 10,000 of them.
On Feb. 8, StoryCorps will roll into Lafayette and set up shop at Parc Sans Souci through March 3. Local public radio station KRVS 88.7 FM will host and support the crew during its stay.
StoryCorps began in 2003, in a soundproof booth in New York City's Grand Central Station. Two friends or family members sit down with one another and talk for 40 minutes. There's no required format to follow. Either one person interviews the other, both interview one another, or they simply talk. Neither participant needs to be an expert on interviewing techniques or a particular subject, just willing to either answer questions, ask them, or both. StoryCorps even offers pointers on preparation through its Web site, www.storycorps.net.
Judy Rowland of Richmond, Texas, a retired school librarian, recently interviewed her husband Thomas as a part of the project. She spoke with him about their early married life, nearly 40 years ago, while he was enlisted in the Navy and stationed in Guam, while she attended The University of Guam. "I just wanted to get it on record," Judy says. "I'm just a human being. I'm an American. ... It's so important just to document individual human stories."
Says founder Dave Isay, "The idea of StoryCorps is that our stories, the stories of regular people, are as interesting and important as the nonsense about Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton and all this crap that we're fed all the time. If we spend a little more time listening to each other and recognizing the value in each other's stories, and less time screaming at each other on talk radio, we'd be a better, more thoughtful country."
The foundation for StoryCorps was laid more that 20 years ago when Isay was a medical school student who'd produced a story for a New York radio station. A representative from National Public Radio heard his segment and picked it for the national network. Isay dropped out of medical school and continued to produce audio documentaries. In 1994, he formed the nonprofit company Sound Portraits Productions.
In May 2005, StoryCorps began using two mobile recording sound booths they call MobileBooths. The soundproof Airstream travel trailers are equipped with recording equipment and travel across the country, setting up shop and recording interviews. Conversations are recorded by a StoryCorps facilitator. One copy goes to the participants, and the other copy is archived with the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, as part of a national oral history project. Some of the conversations even find their way onto segments of the NPR program Morning Edition.
"You talk about whatever you want to talk about," Isay says, "but most people ask the big life questions." Commonly asked questions include the most important lessons learned in life and how one wants to be remembered. Isay suspected that after a number of years, the stories that StoryCorps collected would begin to repeat themselves. But what he's learned is that while the themes may be the same, the variations on those themes are endless.
"People are basically good," Isay says. "I'm learning that everybody, no matter where you are in the country, we share so much more than what divides us. When people get in the booth, they talk about the three most important pieces of life ' which are birth, death and love ' and there's this rainbow of stories that emerge from those three topics. But really, no matter where you come from, no matter how much money have, no matter what color you are, from the big city to the smallest hamlet, the kind of things that matter to people are very much the same."
Andrew Wilson has heard at least 100 of these stories within the last six months, sometimes six to eight of them a day. As a StoryCorps facilitator, he mans the recording equipment and takes notes for archiving the recording with the Library of Congress. "Having done a lot of these interviews," Wilson says, "I realize how infrequently we sit down and talk about something with another person for 40 minutes without having a phone ring or someone interrupt us or changing the subject because the time doesn't seem like the right time to talk about something important. I hope that people will have a great conversation while they're in the booth, but then also that they'll leave and go home and the conversation will continue. People call and write to us and tell us that's what happened, and that's always rewarding to hear."
The small soundproof space inside the trailer makes for an intimate environment where participants sometimes broach subjects they might not discuss in an ordinary setting. "The facilitators call it the magic of the booth," Isays says. "StoryCorps tells people that they matter and they won't be forgotten. Everybody wants to know that. Most people, even the difficult and cantankerous, they just [tell their stories]."
Isay initially conceived of StoryCorps as a 10-year project, but as he began to hear the collected stories and the stories of how individuals were affected by the experience, he scrapped the idea of a fixed time period. Now it's his life's work to make StoryCorps a permanent national institution.
"The fact that we listen to other people's stories, actually listening to a family member in this age of BlackBerries and running around and distraction, just the act of listening is an important way to spend time," Isay says. "Stories remind us how precious each day is and how lucky we are to be alive. So in some way, they're the most important things of all. Stories are our history. It's where we come from. And I think these stories can serve to kind of shake us out of our reality TV-induced haze and help us remember what's important. I think it's very important to recognize that there's value in every single person's story, that everybody's life matters, and when you listen to other people's stories, you realize that. I also think that when you listen to other people's stories, you really recognize our shared humanity and the fact that there is so much more that we share than divides us."
Reservations are required to conduct a StoryCorps interview and can be made by calling (800) 850-4406. The suggested donation for each interview conducted is $10. For more information on StoryCorps, and how you can conduct your own interviews of family and friends, visit www.storycorps.net.
The Louisiana chapter of Americans for Prosperity sent the pledge request to all 144 lawmakers in February.
The 5-foot-10, 203-pound former second-round pick has gone to three Pro Bowls in his five seasons.
U.S. District Judge James Brady had ruled that the corrections department must reveal by this week the information about where it obtained its two lethal injection drugs.
The enrollment period ends this month.
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Wednesday, March 12, 2014:
So far the Democratic agenda includes proposals to expand Medicaid; increase the minimum wage; offer equal pay to women; heighten regulations on predatory lending practices, like payday loans; and add more transparency in the governor’s office.
Hot-button education issues ranging from Common Core to charter schools have some lawmakers pushing to scrap the appointing process and go back to electing the state's super.
Police say the handcuffed man fatally shot himself in the back, but his family isn't buying the story.
Gov. Bobby Jindal offered a budget proposal that suggests new education and health care spending, pay raises for state workers and an incentive fund to encourage colleges to enhance their science, engineering and technology training.
Hopefully he’ll be better prepared today than he was in that Feb. 20 deposition.
They came by the hundreds, arriving from all regions of the state to gather on the steps of our Capitol in protest of the Legislature’s long tradition of giving industry the go-ahead to abuse our air, our water and our coastline, all in the name of good economics.
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s recent rhetoric against President Barack Obama has failed to boost his standing among the conservative base.
Louisiana's annual legislative session begins.
The state has hired marksmen to shoot feral hogs from helicopters at two wildlife management areas in south Louisiana.
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has stalled action on a $3.5 billion annual school funding formula due to state lawmakers by March 15.
The New Orleans Saints have yet to make it official as of this writing, but popular wide receiver Lance Moore has reportedly been cut by the team to free up salary-cap space on the roster.
While two medical marijuana bills are slated for the upcoming legislative session, what some Louisianans might not know is that the plant was approved for therapeutic use by state lawmakers in 1991.
The agenda is shaping up to be lighter than in previous years. But Jindal is term-limited, with fewer than two years remaining in office, and he saw his last big initiative — a proposed rewrite of Louisiana tax law — collapse without getting a vote in 2013.
Sharper has been held without bail because of an arrest warrant issued by Louisiana authorities accusing him and another man of raping two women.
Two Lafayette men have been revealed by police as the infamous duo behind a caper that shook our fair city to its core.
The Lafayette Parish School Board has received a second letter of demand related to last year’s insurance debacle, this time from Key Benefit Administrators claiming it’s owed $93,000 from the school system.
The Louisiana coastline is vanishing faster than mappers can keep track.
A bill that would have overridden local ordinances prohibiting public and private employers from discriminating against lesbian, gay and transgender people has been pulled within less than a week of being filed.
The panel that selects nominees for a controversial New Orleans area flood control board — a board that is suing more than 90 oil, gas and pipeline companies — is set to discuss legislation affecting its independence.
State prison officials cannot keep secret the seller and manufacturer of the two drugs purchased for executions at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.