Thursday, May 27, 2010

Listening Is an Act of Love : A Celebration of American Life from the StoryCorps Project

I enjoy memoirs, so you would think that I would be following StoryCorps, the Library of Congress program that lets people create their own audio memoirs. I had heard of the program. Members of the Western Springs Historical Society adapted StoryCorps questions in a recent oral history project. Several speakers at the Public Library Association Conference in Portland praised StoryCorps. But until this past two weeks, I had not actually listened to or read any of the stories. What spurred me to check out Listening Is an Act of Love: A Celebration of American Life from the StoryCorps Project was hearing Dave Isay on an NPR book podcast describe his experiences managing StoryCorps. He told how he started StoryCorps and described the process by which individuals interview relatives or friends in portable booths set up in public places, such as a library or train station. Sessions are forty minutes, after which the subjects are given professionally produced, broadcast quality compact discs of the interviews. Another copy of each session goes to the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Extracts made from some of these interviews air on National Public Radio on Fridays.

Listening Is an Act of Love includes edited transcripts of a selection of interviews of people telling about important situations and incidents in their lives. Friends, sons, daughters, husbands, wives, or even grandparents prompted them with relevant questions, helping them begin. Many of the stories are only three pages long. A few toward the end run around eight pages. Some of the stories are light, but many seriously tell about how people came to America, overcame addiction, lived in foster homes, got their jobs, gave up children for adoption, met their spouses, and such. The final section has personal stories from 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina survivors.

I found many of the stories touching and inspiring. Some people that I have never heard about have endured incredible hardships and tragedy. Others have shown much courage. Isay holds that we all have great stories to tell if we just get a little help to tell them. Listening Is an Act of Love is his proof. It is now joined by another collection Mom: A Celebration of Mothers from StoryCorps. If you enjoyed This I Believe and other wide ranging story projects, you should try these and the StoryCorps website.

Listening Is an Act of Love : A Celebration of American Life from the StoryCorps Project. Penguin Press, 2007. ISBN 9781594201400

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