The nonprofit StoryCorps was launched in 2003 in New York City to hear and record everyday Americans’ stories. Two years later, it debut on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, and later launched two mobile booths in Washington, D.C., one in San Francisco, three books and won a Peabody Award.
There were also several national initiatives, including September 11, Black and Latino voices (the Griot Initiative and the Historias Initiative, respectively), military members and their families, and LGBTQ people across America. Each week NPR runs edited excerpts of StoryCorps stories.
The organization will be in St. Paul for four weeks this fall to record local residents’ stories as part of its cross-country MobileBooth tour. Minnesota Public Radio is hosting StoryCorps as part of its 50th anniversary celebration and plans to air a selection of local recorded interviews.
Appointments will be available at 10 am on Friday, September 8 by calling StoryCorps’ 24-hour toll-free reservation line at 1-800-850-4406 or visiting www.storycorps.org. The August 24 reservation period quickly filled up before it closed, according to the MPR Twitter page.
“Appointments are 60 minutes long. People will have up to 40 minutes in conversation time,” Felix Lopez, outreach manager for StoryCorps told the MSR from his New York City office.
StoryCorps isn’t just looking for stories for broadcast, he notes: “Less than one percent of our interviews are nationally broadcast,” he states. “When it comes to editing, none of the interviews are edited unless they are going to be locally or nationally broadcast.”
More importantly, the recorded stories are “history in real time,” he reiterates.
At the end of the recording session, participants receive a complimentary CD copy of their interview. With their permission, a second copy will be archived at the Library of Congress for future generations to hear.
Mary Johnson, a Minneapolis woman whose 20-year-old son was killed at an after-hours party over 20 years ago, and Oshea Israel, who was 16 years old when he killed her son and later was convicted for it, now speak together on forgiveness and against violence. They are among the over 100,000 Americans who have recorded interviews about their lives — as part of the largest single collection of human voices, according to the StoryCorps press release.
The Johnson-Israel interview “is one of our favorite stories,” reports Lopez.
Blacks and other people of color have oral stories that often are passed from generations to generations but often aren’t preserved. Lopez’ goal is to get the word out to communities of color about StoryCorps. “I’m Black and Afro Latino, and knowing that the stories that are told to me are stories of spoken word, and how through the generations [these stories] can get lost and excluded.”
“A lot of the time in public radio, people of color and marginalized communities, whether that is socio-economically, sexual orientation, color, religion, a lot of these voices are not being heard or amplified. My goal as an outreach manager is to bring those voices to the table,” pledges Lopez. “It is important to have [these stories] recorded.”
The StoryCorps interviewers try to be as unobtrusive as possible for the participants, explains Lopez: “They are really there as a sounding board…the fly on the wall in facilitating the conversation.
“You can record anything,” he continues. “What’s beautiful about StoryCorps is we don’t have an agenda. We want people to come in and talk, share about their life… They can talk about love, heartbreak or talk about foods they like…talk about life.”
StoryCorps’ MobileBooth, which is a recording studio inside an Airstream trailer, will be parked at the George Latimer Central Library in downtown St. Paul.
“We are hoping in the next year and a half to have a permanent value” to the StoryCorps interviews “not only to researchers but also [to] history,” concludes Lopez.
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Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.