NPR wants to hear Arizonans’ stories

March 12, 2006

NPR wants to hear Arizonans’ stories Janie Magruder
The Arizona Republic
Mar. 9, 2006 12:00 AM For every work of fiction by Barbara Kingsolver, Clive Cussler or Diana Gabaldon, three bestselling Arizona authors, there are dozens of compelling real stories that belong to the state’s average Joes.

Stories about birth and death, friendship and love, wild successes and unfulfilled dreams.

A national oral-history project that has been taping and broadcasting such stories around the country since June arrived in Flagstaff on Monday to collect ours. Arizonans are invited to sign up to share their unique tales in a mobile recording booth parked in a Flagstaff city park through April 2.

The booth belongs to StoryCorps, an initiative of National Public Radio, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and Saturn Corp., which is documenting everyday history in small towns and big cities across the United States.

The tour’s first leg reached 26 towns and produced nearly 2,000 stories, some of which are broadcast Fridays on NPR stations’ Morning Edition and at two permanent booths in New York City.

The second part launched in January, with one mobile booth starting in Tampa and the other in Los Angeles. It was in California that Piya Kochhar, a StoryCorps facilitator, heard a mother-son conversation she’ll always remember.

The woman was a diminutive Mexican-American who, as a girl, dreamed of getting married and being taken care of by a strong man. She met that person and married him, but he eventually became ill and wanted to give up on life.

The woman moved her children to San Diego, where she got a job, bought a house and raised her three boys. Her husband eventually followed, and their roles were reversed.

It was something she never expected to do, and it meant everything to her son.

“He talked to her like she was a war hero,” Kochhar said. “And suddenly, you look at this lady, and you don’t see how tiny she is.”

When the son asked his mother to leave a message on the tape for his young daughter, she replied, “You go out, and you take on the world.”

Kochhar said the 40-minute recording sessions, which are edited down to one to three minutes for use on air, have been amazing.

“There’s something so moving, even when they come in and talk about some event, and how ‘I wore green shoes that day,’ ” she said. “Sometimes, they have an entire conversation in the booth, and sometimes the booth is just the first step to that conversation, which may happen later over lunch or months or years later when they hear the recording again.”

All participants receive CDs of their interviews, and copies also are being archived at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

John Stark, general manager of KNAU-FM, the Flagstaff public radio station, said his town was a logical choice for StoryCorps.

“It’s a crossroads for Route 66 and Interstate 40, and for decades it’s been a waypoint as people traveled from west to east and east to west, as well as being on the edge of the reservation,” said Stark, noting the mobile booth will spend two days on the Hopi Reservation near First Mesa.

Stark’s staff also will be producing additional programming that will be heard at NPR affiliates around the country.

Details: Beginning Friday, you can register for a spot to tell your story in the booth parked at Wheeler Park, 211 W. Aspen Ave., Flagstaff. You must bring another person, a relative or friend, to talk with during the taping, and the suggested donation is $10. To register, go to www.knau.org or www.storycorps.net or call 1-800-850-4406.

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