Saturday, November 29, 2014

Reading Oral Histories

I found myself going to sit at the kitchen table, unable to wash any more dishes, moved to tears.  No, nobody was cutting onions.  My friend was reading, Listening is an Act of Love out loud to me while I worked.  The everyday stories of the everyday people who told them reached into my heart and stirred up a connection with them that burned in my chest and ran down my cheeks.  Their stories were my story, their hearts were my heart, full of both pain and joy.  I marveled at the things we humans go through as we live out our short lives, and I wanted to hear more.

StoryCorps is a nonprofit organization, founded by Dave Isay in 2003, whose goal is to give voice to the stories each of us have through recording, sharing and saving oral histories.  How is this done?  Individuals choose a partner who is significant to them in some realm of life, whether this person is a spouse, longtime coworker, good friend, or close relative, and choose the questions they would like to ask each other.  The partners make an appointment to record their interview at a StoryBooth near them (currently, StoryCorps is in Chicago, Atlanta and San Francisco).  Each StoryBooth has a facilitator to guide the process.

After an interview, participants receive a CD copy of their recording, which will also be preserved in the Archive at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.  As you may have guessed, some of the 55,303 interviews have been transcribed and included in Dave Isay's books, all of which our library currently has.  A selection of interviews are also aired on NPR every Friday.

If you want to feel more connected to your fellow human beings, I highly recommend checking out one of these powerful StoryCorps books:

Ties That Bind: Stories of Love and Gratitude from the First Ten Years of StoryCorps

All There Is: Love Stories from StoryCorps

Mom: A Celebration of Mothers from StoryCorps

Listening is an Act of Love: A Celebration of American Lives from the StoryCorps Project

Here are some of the other fascinating oral history books available at the library:

What Was Asked of Us: an Oral History of the Iraq War by the Soldiers Who Fought It

Strong Medicine Speaks: A Native American Elder Has Her Say

Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression

Oral History: An Interdisciplinary Anthology

Voices of the Territory of New Mexico

Mad World: An Oral History of New Wave Artists and Songs that Defined the 1980s 

In addition, the library has a collection of books from NPR, including ebooks and eaudiobooks.

If you are interested in preserving some of your own family stories by oral history, take a look at these reference books at Genealogy in the Main Library:

The Oral History Workbook

Family History, Genealogy and Oral History Workshop

(Keep in mind that you will not be able to check out reference books to take home with you.)

The StoryCorps website itself also has a helpful do-it-yourself section!

Last, but not least, have a look at these sites for a Southwestern take on oral history:

UNM's Health Sciences Library Oral History Program for Medical Professionals

Southwest Oral History Association

UNM's Oral History Projects Collection

American Indian Oral History Collection

Route 66 Oral History Office

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