1 day ago NPR’s StoryCorps brings soundstage to Inner Harbor

Basha Jordan Jr., right, speaks with StoryCorps founder David Isay, left, before conducting a taped interview with Violetta Daughtry.

(Chris Ammann/Examiner)
Basha Jordan Jr., right, speaks with StoryCorps founder David Isay, left, before conducting a taped interview with Violetta Daughtry.

BALTIMOREThe next few weeks are the perfect time to put on a sweater, head down to the Inner Harbor and listen.

To each other.

StoryCorps, the acclaimed National Public Radio-affiliated project, has pulled its mobile recording booth — after roaming the country for the past 1 1/2 years — to Baltimore for its final stop of 2006. Through Nov. 18, StoryCorps founder David Isay and his team will collect local tales and intimate stories of relationships and everyday life for inclusion in an archives project at Folklife Center in the Library of Congress.

WYPR 88.1 FM, Maryland’s NPR affiliate, partnered with StoryCorps to bring the project to town, and if you’ve heard the sometimes humorous, sometimes tragic, often inspiring personal vignettes on NPR’s Morning Edition, you already understand its unique ability to document and transmit compelling oral histories.

“About 15 years ago I gave a couple of kids in a Chicago housing project a tape recorder for a week and asked them to talk to the people in their lives,” Isay said, describing the inspiration for the project. “The kids talked to their grandparents, a granddaughter interviewed her grandfather. It gave them permission to ask questions they hadn’t asked before. When those grandparents died, those tapes became incredibly valuable to them.”

StoryCorps began in 2003 with a sound booth in New York City’s Grand Central station, encouraging loved ones to interview each other, whether they be friends, spouses, grandparents, siblings, parents or mentors, for 40-minutes or so. The dialogue, recorded and helped along by a StoryCorps’ facilitator, is reproduced for the participants and later archived in the Library of Congress. About one out of a 100 is edited into a three- or four-minute segment that makes it to the public airwaves for broadcast.

Off to the side of the harbor’s visitor center on Light Street, passers-by can put on headphones and listen to samples such as Danny and Annie Perasa reminiscing about their first date 26 years ago; a grandmother revealing her own mother, an immigrant, to her granddaughter; and 12-year-old Tyler Hightower interviewing his aunt Melva.

“My favorite kind of story is when two people, who know each other well, come together and learn something new about each other,” said Maddy Nussbaum, a StoryCorps facilitator. “But that happens every time. There is always that moment of revelation. Every story is amazing. You can’t qualify or quantify people’s lives.”

Interviews can be reserved at StoryCorps.net, an online resource center that includes a reservation and payment system (there is a $10 contribution required), step-by-step technical instructions on how to record, sample recorded interviews, and a ‘question helper’ utility and troubleshooting guide. StoryCorps records six interviews during the week and eight on the weekend, roughly 50 percent of the slots have been filled. More information can be found at http://www.wypr.org.

Violetta Daughtry, 44, a successful recovering drug addict, and now administrative staffer at the Tuerk House in West Baltimore, was interviewed by her pastor, Basha P. Jordan Jr. on Thursday. She is also a former prostitute who lost her children and went to jail. They sat across from each other in the small, diner-like booth.

“I talked about my life,” Daughtry said.




The StoryCorps Airstream trailer sat in front of Town Hall in Burlington, Vt., last month so people could tape their stories.
The StoryCorps Airstream trailer sat in front of Town Hall in Burlington, Vt., last month so people could tape their stories. (Geoff Forester for the Boston Globe)

BURLINGTON, Vt. — Hugh Pittman crossed Lake Champlain by ferry to reach the shiny Airstream trailer parked in the heart of this small city. There, on a brilliant Saturday morning last month, he settled into a dimly lit recording studio in the cozy back room of the trailer.

He had come to tell the story of his father, a hard-working Southerner who was forced to take the helm of the family farm when he was still in grade school. The 40-minute recording will become part of an ambitious new national archive of oral history, one of thousands of interviews with ordinary Americans collected by the non-profit group StoryCorps.

Due to arrive in Boston on Thursday , after a stop in Portland, Maine, the silver StoryCorps trailer is the most eye-catching evidence of a rising interest in recording history. As development diminishes the distinctive character of New England — extending its reach into ever more remote and scenic enclaves — some observers say changes in the landscape have highlighted vanishing traditions and sparked increasing efforts to preserve uniqueness in the face of homogenization.

The StoryCorps project, with its embrace of common experience, reflects a shift in public interest in the past, from a fixation on well-known events and public figures to “a recognition of the importance of the everyday and the local,” said Jo Radner, a Maine storyteller and past president of the American Folklore Society.

In Maine, the state humanities council has seen strong demand for classes, taught by Radner and offered since last year, that teach local historians how to record interviews. A new book of essays about the history of the Monadnock region of New Hampshire, compiled at Franklin Pierce College, is poised to serve as a model for other collections of regional history. The StoryCorps tour, sponsored by National Public Radio, has generated much enthusiasm in New England. In Vermont, two weeks of interview slots made available online were snapped up in six minutes, organizers said.

“There is such a sense of changing times in New England, and people want to try and capture what’s disappearing or what’s been lost,” said Erik Jorgensen, assistant director of the Maine Humanities Council.

Pittman, who traveled from Vermontville, N.Y., to visit the StoryCorps trailer in Burlington, said increasing urban sprawl in his native North Carolina helped him realize that his father’s way of life was disappearing. A few years ago, he visited the old family farm with his father and asked him to talk about his life there. Now, his father is in failing health, adding urgency to Pittman’s quest to record his story.

“To the day I die, I’ll never forget driving down that road with him, talking about the farm,” Pittman said. “A lot of people don’t understand the struggle that went on before them.”

In Madawaska, on Maine’s far northern border, a coalition of cultural groups is recording a CD that will trace 400 years of culture and history in the St. John Valley. In the valley, where many residents still speak both French and English, geographic isolation has been a double-edged sword: The remoteness has helped preserve traditions, like the 17th-century French ballads still sung there, but it has also driven industry from the region, in turn driving away younger people.

“It’s an oral culture here, so a lot of the heritage is passed down through families,” said project director Sheila Jans. “Most of the job is left to women, and it’s so vulnerable. It can stop in a generation, and it has.”

Social change also prompts reflection on the past. Five years after Vermont legalized civil unions for gay couples, the gay and lesbian community center in Burlington interviewed 14 of the state’s gay elders and commissioned artists to interpret their stories. “The Dialogue Project” is now on tour.

Increasingly, explorations of local history are seen as tools for solving problems. Besides preserving a rich culture, the Madawaska project has another purpose: boosting awareness of the region and its distinctive flavor, in hopes of fueling a new economy based on cultural tourism.

In Alexander, Maine, an oral history project also functioned on two levels. In recent years, the tiny Down East town saw an influx of newcomers, but natives and new arrivals failed to mingle, said Radner. The town’s history project, titled “Meet Your Neighbor,” tapped members of both groups for interviews and photographs last year, preserving memories while starting conversations.

A similar goal inspired the New Hampshire anthology, titled “Where the Mountain Stands Alone.” The 350-page book, published last month, includes essays on Monadnock regional history, from the native Abenaki to sheep farms and long-lost ski areas.

The stories offer newcomers a way to connect with longtime residents, said John Harris, director of the Monadnock Institute of Nature, Place & Culture at Franklin Pierce College. To help spark connections, the institute has scheduled a series of “story circles” around the state next month and also set up a website, http://www.monadnockstories.org, where users click on an interactive map to find history from their own towns. A daylong field trip last month to three of the historic sites featured in the book sold out.

“People [today] feel less comfortable connecting, yet there’s enormous hunger underneath to connect with each other,” said Harris.

Jenna Russell can be reached at jrussell@globe.com.  

International Herald Tribune


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NEW YORK People who lost loved ones at the World Trade Center in 1993 and the 2001 terrorist attacks are sharing their memories through an oral history project that will be part of the memorial museum at ground zero.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other officials announced Tuesday that the museum would house the recordings made by the nonprofit organization StoryCorps.

“Through this project, we have an opportunity to ensure that memories will live on long after we are gone, for generations to come,” Bloomberg said.

StoryCorps has set a goal of recording at least one story about each of the 2,979 people killed at the trade center, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and on United Airlines Flight 93 that crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, on Sept. 11.

The oral histories are recorded like conversations, with pairs of witnesses interviewing each other. The memorial museum is scheduled to open in 2009.

In 157 interviews already recorded, relatives and friends recount their most vivid memories of their lost loved ones, document what is known about their deaths and the pain they felt.

In one of the recordings, Richard Pecorella, 54, recalls meeting fiancee Karen Juday, a 52-year-old administrative assistant for the Cantor Fitzgerald brokerage firm, in the spectator stands of a car race in Nazareth, Pennsylvania.

Then, he remembers looking out the window of his Brooklyn office and seeing one of the towers on fire. “I took my office chair and threw it at the window.”

StoryCorps’ founder, Dave Isay, said he hoped the project would serve as a “beacon of hope” for the families, survivors and rescue workers.

StoryCorps runs a larger project, aimed at capturing the memories of average Americans on a variety of topics. Its booth at Grand Central Terminal has collected about 2,500 interviews since October 2003. In May, two StoryCorps “mobile booths” embarked on cross-country journeys.


On the Net:



July 5, 2006




StoryCorpsWhat: Oral-history project recording interviews with regular Americans.

When: Thursday-through July 2. Times vary.

Admission: Free, but donations are requested; must have a reservation.

Where: Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Oakland.

Details: 800-850-4456 or www.storycorps.net.


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By Michael Machosky
Monday, June 5, 2006

Who will remember you when you're gone?That's easy to answer if you're a president or a Beatle or Barry Bonds — but less so for the rest of us. Family and friends, of course. But what about 100 or 200 years in the future?

It's impossible to say with certainty. But if the StoryCorps project is successful, it may not be that hard to get to know distant ancestors fairly well.

StoryCorps, partnered with the Library of Congress and National Public Radio, wants to record the stories of everyday people all over America. The goal is to get at least 250,000 Americans throughout the next decade to sign up to interview a friend, parent or spouse in one of StoryCorps' soundproof recording booths.One of their two mobile booths — in a shiny silver Airstream trailer — is coming to Pittsburgh Thursday and staying through July 2 in front of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

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"It's a pretty powerful way of honoring someone, by saying 'Your story matters, and I want to preserve it,'" StoryCorps coordinator Matt Ozug says.In other parts of the country, Eric Givens interviewed his 100-year-old grandfather, Arthur Winston, about his work ethic. Winston worked for 72 years at the LA Metropolitan Transit Authority, missing only one day on the job. Friends Gregg Goins and Steve Nelms interviewed each other about their lives as fast-talking North Carolina tobacco auctioneers.

Alissa Magrum, of Austin, Texas, interviewed her life partner, Tammy Stanley, for the future benefit of their 1-year-old daughter, Ella.

"It turned out to be sort of humorous, because we had child care arranged to meet us there to watch the baby while we did our interview — but that person didn't show up in time," Magrum says. "So we had Ella in there with us in the tiny StoryCorps booth. She's a very verbal child, so you can hear her in our interview babbling away."

All recordings will be filed in the Library of Congress. Participants will take home one copy of the interview on CD, and, for the first time, a local library — the Carnegie — will get a copy for its archives.

Short StoryCorps segments from around the country can be heard between 5 and 9 a.m. Fridays during NPR's "Morning Edition," which airs locally on WDUQ-FM (90.5). WDUQ also will air additional selected local stories throughout the summer.

"We have no idea how valuable these recordings will be in the future," Ozug says. "Our touchstone is the recordings made in the '30s by the Works Progress Administration, which were incredibly valuable (to historians). And certainly, for the family, it's incredibly valuable to have someone's voice on tape.

"These stories of 'ordinary people' are so much more valuable and important (to historians) than the stories of celebrities — the Donald Trumps and Paris Hiltons that we're barraged with everyday," Ozug says.

Magrum simply wanted her daughter to know how much thought and care went into bringing her into the world.

"We wanted to be, on some level, a really great example of a same-sex couple starting a family in a very supportive environment," she says. "We both work; we have supportive family; we volunteer in the community; we mow our grass. Our child is surrounded by so much love — and that's not always the story that gets told."

The StoryCorps mobile recording booths are designed to shut off the outside world. Participants get to have a 40-minute conversation with no distractions — rare these days, given the pace of modern life.

"The idea is a pretty simple one," Ozug says. "Basically, the founder of StoryCorps had pioneered this form of citizen-recorded documentaries, where he would give the microphone over to the participants, and allow them to do a lot of the recording. He found there's a great power in giving a mike to somebody and allowing them to ask the questions they've always wanted to ask."

Of course, people can say whatever they want — StoryCorps doesn't have a staff large enough for rigorous fact-checking.

"No, there's no mechanism for checking," Ozug says. "In all honesty, you'd be lying to your daughter. Maybe there are some embellishments — stories get remembered differently than they actually occurred. But that's the case with any kind of history."

If you're nervous about how you'll react when the door shuts and the microphones click on, don't be, Ozug says.

"Often, grandma or grandpa says 'I don't have anything interesting to say,' or 'Oh, don't waste your time on me,'" Ozug says. "Then the door closes; the mikes go on; and 40 minutes later, they're holding on for dear life, and don't want it to end."

It costs the organizers about $200 to do each interview, so those who participate are asked to contribute at least $10, or more, if they can afford it. Reservations fill up quickly, so interested parties are advised to sign up as quickly as possible.

Great questions

• What was the happiest moment of your life? The saddest?

• What are the most important lessons you've learned in life?

• How has your life been different from what you've imagined?

For friends

• What is your first memory of me?

• Was there a time when you didn't like me?

• Is there anything you've always wanted to tell me but haven't?

For grandparents

• What was your childhood like?

• What was my mom/dad like growing up?

• What's the worst thing she/he ever did?

• Do you remember any songs you used to sing to him/her? Can you sing them now?

For parents

• How did you choose my name?

• If you could do everything again, would you raise me differently?

• What advice would you give me about raising my own kids?

Growing up

• What is your earliest memory?

• Did you have a nickname? How did you get it?

• How would you describe a perfect day when you were young?


• What kind of student were you?

• What would you do for fun?

• Are you still friends with anyone from that time in your life?


• What was your first serious relationship?

• How did you meet your wife/husband?


• Do you like your job?

• What did you want to be when you grew up?

• What lessons has your work life taught you?


• What role does religion play in your life?

• Have you experienced any miracles?

Source: StoryCorps

Michael Machosky can be reached at mmachosky@tribweb.com or (412) 320-7901.

StoryCorps brings oral history live

By Nicholas Spangler
Not all lives end badly but every one is tragic.

The silver Airstream trailer parked these last weeks on Northeast 14th Street is outfitted accordingly. It contains recording equipment for an oral history project called StoryCorps, a guy named Jonah to work the controls, and a big box of Kleenex in easy reach.

The stories are broadcast on National Public Radio and copies are sent to the Library of Congress. First, though, StoryCorps participants enter the trailer two at a time to ask each other what the project flier calls “the important questions.”

”Every year around this time you commemorate certain days. Why is that?” Judith Lamet asked her husband Eric the other day. He is 75, and was talking about very old days.

”In 1938, five days after Hitler invaded Austria, we fled to Italy,” he said. “In 1941, the police said Jews were no longer allowed in the city. We went to the internment camp. It was almost an adventure, for a boy.”

Eric’s father was in Poland. Eric and his mother packed off to Ospedaletto, a small town in southern Italy. Very small. Few people wore shoes, and there was no running water.

”I remember your telling me once you saw a bathroom tub used for an unusual purpose there,” Judith said.

”Full of coal,” Eric said. “I don’t think anybody had ever taken a bath or a shower in it. They didn’t know about that.”

By 1943, German soldiers were patrolling the streets. German officers demanded a list of the town’s Jews. But Italian anti-Semitism was not so murderous as the Germans’. ‘The mayor of this town said `Yes, of course,’ and for all I know they’re still waiting for that list. That was typical of the Italians. That mayor never had any intention of providing the list.”

The Germans came with artillery and half-track tanks, fascinating to a 13-year-old boy. So he took a ride with them. “I remember my mother standing there, just ashen white, I don’t know from fear or anger. She didn’t hurt me then, but the sight of her — it was just as bad as if I’d gotten hit.”

Eric knew nothing then of extermination camps or genocide. The Germans seemed like great guys. Eric — fluent in German, Italian and Yiddish — helped them get around. They liked him. They had canned fruit, chocolate, whole chickens, and they liked to share.

There was one in particular: “One day he came to visit. He jumped down from the half-track and walked out some distance with me, away from the others.”

Eric started to cry now, sitting now in this tiny recording booth, across from his wife and Jonah.

‘ `I understand you’re Jewish,’ he said to me. Those words are practically chiseled on my memory. He said, ‘Not all Germans are alike.’ ”

So the soldier did not want Eric to see him as a Nazi monster. He might have been a good man. Eric never saw him again.

There were other stories. Eric’s mother met an Italian man and remarried; his father, missing and feared dead for years, showed up one day by train: ‘I had this picture in my mind of an elegant man, tall, sharp, and here in front of me is a man who is just broken. Broken spiritually and physically. `How are you?’ he asked. ‘And how is this Italian gentleman?’ We spent two hours there but I don’t remember what else we talked about.”

Before she disappeared, Eric’s aunt sent one last letter from a labor camp in Germany: she knew he liked stamps and gave him one emblazoned with the face of Adolf Hitler.

There was time for one last story. It was about the jacket Eric wore to ward off the sea’s chill on the S.S. Atlantic when he finally left Italy. He put it down on a New York pier for just a second, after disembarking, and it vanished: Welcome to America, kid.

”I would not want to relive those years for any sum,” Eric said. “But by the same token, I would not give them up for any sum.”

It was a hard thing to say. If someone, years from now, listens to the recording of this afternoon, he will hear silence and a swallow and one heavy breath: the sound of a man mastering himself.

Then Eric reached, for the first time, for the Kleenex, and Jonah stopped recording.

If you have a story idea, e-mail nspangler@Miami



By Linda Altoonian
Special to the Star-Telegram

StoryCorps offers gifts to the future

Dear Ageless: I love hearing my grandparents tell the stories of their lives. How can I preserve them for future generations?

— Wanting Sweet Remembrances

Dear Wanting: Preserving that kind of historical data is the mission of StoryCorps, which has conducted and archived more than 5,000 oral histories. Modeled after a 1930s program that hired unemployed writers to document oral history and folklore throughout the United States, StoryCorps is “a national project intended to instruct and inspire people to record each others’ stories in sound.”

StoryCorps is building recording studios across the country and offers two permanent locations in New York City called StoryBooths and two traveling studios called MobileBooths. A facilitator aids in question development, handles all the technical aspects of the recording, produces the CD (a digital recording with broadcast-quality equipment), and archives the 40-minute interview with the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

An extraordinary value, only a $10 donation is asked. The $200 cost is underwritten by various organizations, including the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and National Public Radio (on which these interviews are broadcast), and is supported by public generosity.

Choose an interview partner (must be over 10), make a reservation online or call (800) 850-4406 (24 hours/7 days a week), develop a list of questions, and arrive 10 minutes before the scheduled time to conduct the interview (or tell your own story). If you live too far from a Story or MobileBooth, visit http://storycorps.net to download a Do It Yourself Guide that lists equipment needed and outlines the complete process for conducting a StoryCorps interview, including questions, tips and an interview checklist.

Linda Altoonian writes Dear Ageless. Send questions to Dear Ageless, 1800 Longbranch Court, Arlington, TX 76012 or dearageless@netzero.com.

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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.

A Cultural Shift: Learning to Say ‘I Love You’

Listen to this story...

Joyce Lee, left, with her mother, Hee-sook, in Los Angeles.

Joyce Lee, left, with her mother, Hee-sook, in Los Angeles. StoryCorps

Questions or Comments?

Morning Edition, March 10, 2006 · For many, immigrating to a new country represents a chance to start over, to explore work or cultural opportunities that didn’t exist back home. But the move can also allow a new approach to daily life — and the way a husband and wife interact.

Hee-sook Lee came to the United States from South Korea 43 years ago. As a child, she had seen very little affection or tenderness in her home. Lee decided she wanted her marriage to be different from what was customary in Korea.

Speaking with her daughter, Joyce Lee, Hee-sook describes the ideas she had back in 1963, and the way she went about getting what she wanted: a responsive husband.

“I wanted to be a happy, sweet couple,” Hee-sook says.

Her husband, also newly arrived from South Korea in those days, had ideas about affection that were slow to change. But for Hee-sook, it was just a matter of steadfastly saying, “I love you.” The rest, she says, got better with practice.

Hee-sook and her husband have now been married for nearly 40 years. They are currently working as missionaries in Asia. Hee-sook and Joyce Lee spoke at a StoryCorps booth in Los Angeles.

StoryCorps is the oral history project collecting stories around the nation, as friends and family members interview each other in a mobile recording booth. Copies of the conversations go to the Library of Congress — and excerpts are played on Morning Edition each Friday.