Published by The Advocacy Committee of the
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StoryCorps Turns Ordinary People into Oral Historians, US Department of State (Washington, DC) , August 21, 2007


Usually people come in pairs to the story booth -- a grandmother and granddaughter, a husband and wife, a father and son. They ask each other such questions as What was the hardest moment you had growing up? When did you meet your husband (or wife)? How has the Civil Rights Movement affected you personally?

But there are also people who come alone to the story booth in New York to talk about the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. “It’s so painful and it’s so frightening for them, they just want to come by themselves,” says David Isay, the founder of StoryCorps, which seeks to preserve the personal stories of ordinary people for future generations.

“Firefighters who have never talked about what happened on 9/11 before, hadn’t ever gone to counseling -- they come to StoryCorps because they feel like they are contributing something to history,” Isay, an award-winning documentary filmmaker, said in an interview with New York Public Radio. “They come to StoryCorps to cry and talk about what happened on that day.”

Starting in 2003, Isay set out to create an oral history of America using as a model a project done by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in the 1930s. The first story booth opened in New York's Grand Central Terminal, and since then a second has opened in New York City, another in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and two mobile booths have traveled around the country.

Another special StoryCorps initiative focuses on African-American history and is called StoryCorps Griot after a West African tradition of storytelling. The griot is someone who acts as a living repository of births, deaths, marriages and significant events, transmitting oral history through the generations.

Each Friday National Public Radio airs one of the stories.

Subjects Covered: education, personal storytelling

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