StoryCorps has been helping people record interviews for 10 years, documenting about 50,000 stories in the process. Storycorps founder Dave Isay joins us to share highlights from the past decade and to celebrate the National Day of Listening.

Dave Isay, founder and president of StoryCorps; and author of "Ties That Bind: Stories of Love and Gratitude From the First Ten Years of Storycorps"

  • Fay Nissenbaum

    This is the nail polish story that caller just asked about – it is quite disturbing and unforgettable:

  • Fay Nissenbaum

    By the way, as kids (I’m 45), we simply didn’t ask relatives about what exactly they did in the war (WWII), and I had two experiences with very angry Vietnam vets where I felt that I was intruding into very personal feelings simply by asking, “what did you do in the war over there?”. So I am so impressed and thrilled storycorps gets these stories drawn out from folks. How does a storycorps booth effect the storyteller to be forthcoming?

  • CJ Koenig

    I was a speaker on the program who got stage fright before I could finish my comment.

    I introduced myself as a professional researcher at the SFVAMC. I conduct research interviews with returning veterans, health care providers, and administration using both focused and in-depth interview formats. In my work, I typically do not know the interviewees, so the in-depth interview is often the only time we meet.

    However, as Mr. Isay mentioned, the interview itself can be transformative. I am often the only person who has asked questions about some facet of a veteran’s experience. While I do not have an established relationship, like the participants in StoryCore, the fact that I am interested helps make them feel more understood. One veteran told me that I was the first person in the organization who he felt listened to him. The only thing I did was ask him questions about his military experience, what happened when he came back from deployment, his health, and who were his social support. We talked for 90 minutes.

    While the StoryCore project demonstrates that storytelling can give us a new perspective by listening to other people’s experience, it focuses on the highlights of the human experience. Using a geographical metaphor, StoryCore helps to
    discern the “valleys” and “peaks” of our lives. These interactions are valuable because of the displayed affection between interivewer and interviewee and the potent truth of the stories — together are moments that will last beyond lifetimes. However, this emphasis on valleys and peaks leaves out the larger terrain in which the valleys and peaks lie. Other techniques are needed to see how far the valleys are from the peaks and how many there are over time. In-depth interview techniques,
    such as oral history, ethnographic, and life interviews, help us understand how each story fits together into a life trajectory.

    Researchers such as myself, use methods similar to StoryCore to understand people’s experiences of illness, physicians’ experiences of their work, and how providers across specialties communicate and collaborate. Our collective work shows that what we recognize as meaningful impacts all aspects of our lives — whether we seek out mental health care, whether we tell other people about the illnesses that affect us, or how much pain we are in. But many people do not tell these stories until they are asked. And someone is ready and open to listen. I see my work as helping to humanize veterans experiences to health care providers whose job is difficult and stressful. Some of my work is beginning to transform how health care is delivered in real practice. While this type of work is growing in importance, it is still under-funded and largely misunderstood by many research communities and funders.

    StoryCore is right to celebrate its achievements over the last 10 years. This project has blossomed into something of beauty and a real contribution to a humanistic institution. However, might StoryCore use its position to help promote those of us who use interviews (and other field methods) to improve health care experience, workplace conditions, and other aspects of social life?

    Christopher J. Koenig, PhD
    San Francisco VA Medical Center
    University of California, San Francisco

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