By Dr. Jon Aske, Department of Foreign Languages
Last summer I volunteered to lead a book discussion for a group of incoming freshmen during orientation. The book in question was called Listening Is an Act of Love and it had been assigned to them to read as a sort of bonding experience.
I would like to tell you a bit about this book, how it came about, and the organization that put it together: StoryCorps. StoryCorps is a non-profit organization that collects oral histories of regular people. The assumption is that everybody has stories to tell that are interesting and that are worth sharing and preserving.
If you think that this is an odd proposition and that regular people do not have much to say that could be of interest to other people, you are in for a surprise. If you read the book you will see right away that this is really interesting stuff. Surely the book contains a selection of the best stories but, still, as one reads through them one is constantly amazed and moved by the experiences people lived and one soon comes to the realization that people, all people, you and me, are part of history too.
StoryCorps was inspired by oral history projects that were done in the 1930’s. The recording of StoryCorps stories started in 2003. The person telling the story always does it in front of a person close to them, a family member or a friend and, because of that, the stories sound even more real, personal and poignant. People who go to a StoryCorps booth to record a conversation receive a copy of the recording on CD. Another copy of each interview is placed at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.
In 2008 StoryCorps published the first collection of stories in book form, the one I have just mentioned: Listening Is an Act of Love: A Celebration of American Life from the StoryCorps Project.
On April 15 of this year a second book of stories by StoryCorps became available, just in time for Mother’s Day, since mothers are the topic of the stories in this book. The book is called Mom: A Celebration of Mothers from StoryCorps. No doubt this will make a great Mother’s Day present.
StoryCorps has other thematic projects or initiatives. For instance, in 2007 they started recording stories of African American’s, recording close to 2000 stories, primarily from WWII veterans and people who participated in the civil rights movement.
More recently, in September 2009, StoryCorps started a project called StoryCorps Historias to create a collection of Hispanic/Latino stories. As they tell us, “StoryCorps Historias is an initiative to record the diverse stories and life experiences of Latinos in the United States, whether in English or Spanish. Sharing these stories celebrates our history, honors our heritage, and captures the true spirit of our community. It will also ensure that the voices of Latinos will be preserved and remembered for generations to come.” Hispanics and students of Spanish will no doubt find this site very interesting.
I strongly recommend you listen or read some of these stories. You can get the books I mentioned, but you can also listen to some of the stories on National Public Radio or at the StoryCorps website.
- Official StoryCorps website: http://storycorps.org/
- StoryCorps on Twitter: http://twitter.com/storycorps
- StoryCorps on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/StoryCorps
- StoryCorps Historias: http://storycorps.org/historias (Spanish) or http://storycorps.org/historias-en (English)
- StoryCorps on NPR: http://tinyurl.com/StoryCorpsNPR
- Listen to or read the 11/08/07 NPR program about StoryCorps’ book Listening Is an Act of Love: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=16088311