Twelve years ago, Dave Isay set up a recording booth in New York’s Grand Central Station. He wanted to document the experiences of everyday Americans through conversations between friends and family. Today, Storycorps has recorded 100,000 people across the country, capturing tales of bravery, forgiveness and quiet acts of love. Over Thanksgiving weekend, the oral history project hopes to double that number. They have created an app that puts the tools of the recording booth in the hands of the public. They are calling on young people to interview a grandparent or other elder in an effort to collect the stories of a generation. Storycorps founder Dave Isay talks about the power of interviewing a loved one.


  • David Isay Preisdent and founder, StoryCorps


  • 11:06:54

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. If you're an NPR listener, you might just recognize this music.

  • 11:07:11

    MS. DIANE REHMIt's played every Friday morning to introduce another edition of StoryCorps the oral history project where loved ones interview each other about their lives. StoryCorps has just launched an app that gives the power of the recording booth to anyone with a Smartphone. They're hoping to collect tens of thousands of interviews over Thanksgiving weekend with a project they're calling "The Great Thanksgiving Listen."

  • 11:07:42

    MS. DIANE REHMJoining me in the studio to talk about "Storycorp's" most ambitious project to date, David Isay, founder and executive director of StoryCorps. Throughout the hour, I'll look forward to hearing your questions, comments, your own thoughts about StoryCorps. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send your email to Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Dave Isay, it's good to see you.

  • 11:08:19

    MR. DAVID ISAYSo happy to be here.

  • 11:08:20

    REHMWell, it's been a long time since you and I have seen each other. Dave, before we get started on StoryCorps, you've got to tell the story of how you got started in radio.

  • 11:08:34

    ISAYOh, my gosh.

  • 11:08:36

    REHMCome on.

  • 11:08:36

    ISAYWell, that's a long time ago. So this was 30 years ago and I was headed to medical school and was walking down the street one day in the east village where I lived and saw a storefront that kind of caught my eye. Went inside and started talking to the people who worked there and it was a husband and wife. It was a couple and they were transit workers. They had been transit workers, but had retired and told me that they were both former heroin addicts, recovering heroin addicts and HIV positive.

  • 11:09:13

    ISAYAnd they took me to the back of this tiny store and showed me these models of a museum to addiction that they were intent on building before they died. And I was, you know, blown away. They had built -- they had blueprints of every exhibition in the museum and they were convinced they were going to be able to build this and this was 1987.

  • 11:09:39


  • 11:09:39

    ISAYSo, you know, they weren't going to live very long. And, you know, they just had the courage of their convictions and I loved them and they had all these letters from Donald Trump and everyone else who they'd written to asking for money and they were just rejection letters, but they read hope into these letters and had this big binder full of them.

  • 11:09:59

    REHMHow old were they?

  • 11:10:01

    ISAYOh, they were in their 40s, you know, in their 40s.

  • 11:10:03

    REHMAnd both HIV positive.

  • 11:10:05

    ISAYYes, yeah, um-hum. And I went home and back then, we had something called Yellow Pages and started -- looked up the TV in the Yellow Pages and started calling all the local news in New York and saying, like, there's this amazing couple, will you cover it? And everyone said, no, no, no, no, no. Then, I started calling the radio stations and they all said no. And I got to a little community radio station in New York, WBAI, and the news director there whose name is Amy Goodman and has a show called "Democracy Now," now...

  • 11:10:34

    REHMOf course.

  • 11:10:34

    ISAY...said, it sounds like a great story. We don't have anybody to cover it. Why don't you do it? So I borrowed a tape recorder and I went in and I had -- I mean, I was so lucky 'cause I was 21 years old, 22 maybe. And, you know, the minute I pushed play and record on the tape recorder, I knew this was what I was going to do for the rest of my life and...

  • 11:10:53

    REHMSo what happened to medical school?

  • 11:10:55

    ISAYWell, so the story ran on WBAI that night. Someone from NPR happened to be driving through, happened to be listening to it, picked up the story for NPR for "All Things Considered" and I dropped out of medical school and here we are 30 years later, I guess it is. So yeah, it's been quite a, you know, I was very, very, very lucky to fall into -- to find my calling at a very young age.

  • 11:11:20

    REHMI feel the same way. No question of it. But then, what inspired you to make the move from radio to StoryCorps?

  • 11:11:32

    ISAYSo I made radio documentaries for many years and I did a lot of stuff in, you know, homeless shelters and prisons and housing projects. And I was very interested in kind of shining a light on places and giving voice to folks who maybe don't, you know, aren't heard from in the national media that often and doing it through their, you know, voice and story and being the vehicle through which they could tell their story the way they wanted to have it told.

  • 11:12:04

    ISAYAnd when I did interviews in, like, a penitentiary and interviewed somebody who was serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole, and asked them, you know, just questions, like, about their childhood, about their--how they wanted to be remember, that sort of stuff, you could almost see their back straighten. I could see that it was, you know, an important and sometimes a transformative moment in people's lives.

  • 11:12:26

    ISAYSo I had this crazy idea a dozen years ago to start StoryCorps which essentially takes documentary and turns it on its head because documentary has traditionally been about whether its audio or film or print. You know, you do interviews and then you create a work of education or, you know, art that's experienced by a lot of people and that's what its purpose is. So with StoryCorps, what I wanted to do was try something where the interviews themselves are the purpose and that if there's any content that comes out of it, that's just kind of a wonderful corollary of this public service we're offering.

  • 11:13:01

    ISAYSo we built a booth in Grand Central Terminal, as you know, where you can bring your father, your mother, grandfather, anyone you want to honor by listening to their story. You sit with them for 40 minutes in this quiet space, sacred space, and have this conversation. And as you know, the microphone gives you the license to talk about things you've never talked about before and they're very intense conversations. And at the end of 40 minutes, you get a CD or now a digital copy and another one goes to the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress so your great, great, great, great grandkids can someday get to know your grandmother through her voice in story.

  • 11:13:33

    ISAYSo that was the crazy idea 12 years ago and here we are.

  • 11:13:37

    REHMThere is one story that I know you may have said is one of your favorites. It's with Joshua and Sara Littman. Let's hear.

  • 11:13:54

    JOSHUA LITTMANFrom a scale of one to ten, do you think your life would be different without animals?

  • 11:13:58

    SARA LITTMANI think it would be an eight without animals because they add so much pleasure to life.

  • 11:14:04

    LITTMANHow else do you think your life would be different without them?

  • 11:14:06

    LITTMANI could do without things like cockroaches and snakes.

  • 11:14:09

    LITTMANWell, I'm okay with snakes as long as they're not venomous or, like, can constrict you or anything.

  • 11:14:13

    LITTMANYeah, I'm not a big snake person.

  • 11:14:15

    LITTMANI think it feels like everyone seems to like Amy more, like she's, like, the perfect little angel.

  • 11:14:21

    LITTMANWell, I can understand why you think that people like Amy more, and I'm not saying it's because of Asperger Syndrome, but being friendly comes easily to Amy. Whereas, I think, for you, it's more difficult. But the people who take the time to get to know you, love you so much.

  • 11:14:37

    LITTMANLike Ben or Eric or Carlos.

  • 11:14:40

    LITTMANYeah. And...

  • 11:14:41

    LITTMANLike, I have better quality friends, but less quantity.

  • 11:14:45

    LITTMANI wouldn't judge the quality, but I think...

  • 11:14:47

    LITTMANI mean, like, first, it was like, Amy loved Claudia, then she hated Claudia. She loved Claudia, then she hated Claudia.

  • 11:14:51

    LITTMANYeah, you know what, part of that's a girl thing, honey. The important thing for you is that you have a few very good friends. And really, that's what you need in life.

  • 11:15:00

    LITTMANDid I turn out to be the son you wanted when I was born? Like, did I meet your expectations and...

  • 11:15:07

    LITTMANYou've exceeded my expectations, sweetie, because, you know, sure, you have these fantasies of what your child's going to be like, but you have made me grow so much as a parent because you think...

  • 11:15:19

    LITTMANWell, I was the one who made you a parent.

  • 11:15:21

    LITTMANYou were the one who made me a parent. That's a good point. But also, because you think differently from, you know, what they tell you in the parenting books, I really had to learn to think out of the box with you. And it's made me much more creative as a parent and as a person and I'll always thank you for that.

  • 11:15:38

    LITTMANAnd that helped when Amy was born?

  • 11:15:39

    LITTMANAnd that helped when Amy was born, but you are just so incredibly special to me and I'm so lucky to have you as my son.

  • 11:15:48

    REHMDave Isay, why did that particular one touch you so?

  • 11:15:54

    ISAYWell, I don't actually have favorite stories. You know, we've recorded 65,000 of these and we think that every one of these interviews, you know, is of equal value, you know. Some of them have this universality to them that makes them appropriate to share with a larger audience. So we edit one out of every 400 interviews, three minutes out of the 40 minute interviews. And, you know, but I love -- I think that's a great piece. I mean, as you hear Josh Littman has Asperger's and, you know, when people come to StoryCorps, we have something called a question generator.

  • 11:16:34

    ISAYAnd people always prepare. We have the ten best questions and then dozens of others and people write their questions before. And Josh did not use the question generator. So questions like, you know, how do you feel about animals and all this are completely him. And, you know, it's -- and another thing I love about this is, you know, Josh was -- I think he was 13 or 14 at the time when he did this and, you know, kids with Asperger's have a really tough time socially and he was getting, you know, beaten up in school. And his mom -- he got hundreds and hundreds, maybe thousands of letters from NPR listeners.

  • 11:17:09

    ISAYAnd his mom bound them in a book and when he'd come home after a rough day, they would read these letters that told them what an amazing kid he was, you know. So that's -- and I have kept in touch with them and he is in college now and they're both doing great.

  • 11:17:22

    REHMOh, that's a great story. I must say, he was so intent on knowing really how much his mother loved him. He really needed to hear that. And it was a lovely way to do it as are many of the other pieces you're going to hear in this hour as we talk with Dave Isay and certainly about his plans, his hopes, his ambitions for Thanksgiving weekend. Stay with us.

  • 11:20:02

    REHMWelcome back. David Isay is with me. He is the founder and executive director of StoryCorps, the recipient of numerous broadcasting honors, including six Peabody Awards and a MacArthur Fellowship. And he recently won the TED Prize. Tell us about the TED Prize.

  • 11:20:31

    ISAYWell, I have to confess that I think I was the last person on the face of the Earth to have not seen a TED Talk. But I got a call from them and won this million-dollar prize, which was fantastic. And I've since watched TED Talks, which are great, as well.

  • 11:20:46

    REHMI listen to them every week.

  • 11:20:48

    ISAYYeah. And, yeah, and the TED Radio Hour also.

  • 11:20:49

    REHMYeah. Exactly.

  • 11:20:51

    ISAYSo, basically, the million dollars was to fulfill a dream. And that dream was to -- what we did was, you know, StoryCorps -- we call it access to the StoryCorps experience. Going to this booth, there's a facilitator in the booth who's basically, you know, helping you through the experience and collecting the wisdom of humanity, bearing witness to these interviews. And I wanted to -- but, you know, as I said before, the story of StoryCorps is public service, of giving people the chance to connect in this way and have these conversations and leave this record for the future.

  • 11:21:21

    ISAYAnd there were only so many interviews we could do with, you know, facilitators and, you know, we've grown a lot since we started. But, you know, we're still doing 5,000 or 6,000 interviews a year. So I wanted to see if we could move the StoryCorps experience on to a mobile device. So we used the money to build an app. And the app is basically a digital facilitator, which gives you the question generator, walks you through the whole process. You hit record. And when you're done with the interview, you can upload it to the Library of Congress. And I was concerned.

  • 11:21:54

    ISAYSo we launched it a few months ago and I was concerned -- you know, when StoryCorps launched, I was concerned that people might not treat it with respect. I didn't know what would happen. I thought there might be Jerry Springer moments of people revealing things and, you know, just -- I had -- I was concerned but even more concerned about the app because, you know, the Internet is such a coarsening place. And immediately, when we launched it, you know, it was an amazing thing to hear.

  • 11:22:20


  • 11:22:20

    ISAYI mean, it's -- and, you know, the interviews that are coming in over the app are not as long, not the 40 minutes. The average is 11 or 12 minutes. They're not as well recorded. But they are -- it's total fidelity to the idea of StoryCorps. And it's spreading to places where people have never heard of StoryCorps, do not know what public radio is, kind of, you know, Deep South, small towns, young people. And they pick it up and they just get it immediately.

  • 11:22:46

    REHMDo you have to pay for the app?

  • 11:22:50

    ISAYNo. Of course not. No, we're a public service, yeah.

  • 11:22:53

    REHMAll right.

  • 11:22:54

    ISAYNo, it's a free app.

  • 11:22:55

    REHMI think that's important to say.

  • 11:22:56

    ISAYYeah. Yeah. And we've had -- so we've had 15,000 interviews come in so far, which is normally what we'd do in three years. But what we're trying next week is this really crazy thing. And we've, you know, we've been working on this for about two months. And I wanted to wait until we knew the technology was working and we saw how people were using the technology. And two months ago, we decided to do this crazy thing where, on Thanksgiving weekend, we're going to take the app -- and we've been running it at 10 miles an hour -- we're going to try and run it at 100 miles an hour.

  • 11:23:28

    ISAYAnd we are asking every U.S. History teacher, Social Studies teacher in the country who's teaching U.S. History to assign their students, over Thanksgiving weekend, to record a StoryCorps interview using the app with an elder, a grandparent. And theoretically, we could honor a whole generation of people in this country over a weekend, so...

  • 11:23:51

    REHMAnd what is the Library of Congress going to do with them?

  • 11:23:56

    ISAYWell they, you know, I think the Library of Congress preserves them and keeps them safe. It also makes them accessible.

  • 11:24:01

    REHMWill they be catalogued?

  • 11:24:02

    ISAYYes. And there's also a stream on the StoryCorps app. When you upload it, it goes into a steam. So this is a little bit different than the, what we call, signature StoryCorps stories where, right now, there's not public access to them except at the Library of Congress. So stories that you hear on NPR are fact-checked, approved by the people who've participated. And that's -- and we've done, you know, hundreds and hundreds of hundreds of these stories. And those are accessible to everybody. But we haven't made the whole archive public yet, except at the Library of Congress, because I have concerns about making sure that people have full informed consent about what it means for these interviews to be on the Web.

  • 11:24:41

    ISAYSo we're slowly going to move those. But the interviews that happen on the app, you upload it, it goes to the Library of Congress, it goes on to a feed that is constantly growing of interviews, so everyone -- and you tag your own interviews. So unlike the StoryCorps interviews, where you have a facilitator who's logging them, you know, people are logging them themselves. So it's, you know, it's the Wild West for us. And we're just, on this, you know, it feels like running, kind of, like a little bit running a -- the national political campaign. It's with a very small group of people but it's really fun. And we have a big goal.

  • 11:25:12

    REHMHow do they sound -- in their final, uploaded version -- different from the ones that you have done in the past?

  • 11:25:25

    ISAYWell, the, you know, the substance is very similar. You know, we'll have two, you know, I'll hear a couple of, like, you know frat boys in Arkansas who pick up the app and it starts out kind of uncomfortable. But, you know, 20 minutes later, they're crying on the app. I mean, it's like -- it's almost like -- I listen driving back and forth to the grocery store every Sunday night. Like, and I'm, you know, and it's just -- it's almost like -- it's just amazing to me what I hear coming off of these things. I mean, when -- in a Story Corps booth, you've got, you know, great microphones and you're in a quiet place.

  • 11:25:58


  • 11:25:59

    ISAYSo the audio quality is the equivalent of like a 35 mm movie or whatever -- 70 mm movie. And so -- and they're not, you know, as I said, they -- it's shorter. But there's no -- there's really no substantive difference between the interviews happening on the app and the interviews that happen in the booth. I mean, essentially what happens in StoryCorps is that we're -- because of the nature of what's talked about -- and I do think it has -- there's some similarities with hospice, StoryCorps, in some ways.

  • 11:26:29

    REHMAll right. Let's listen to one of those interviews recorded using the app.

  • 11:26:41

    KAYDENHi. My name is Kayden (sp?). I'm 13 years old. And I'm speaking with Jamie Shokier (sp?), who is my grandfather. We are recording an interview in Arizona, Phoenix. When were you diagnosed with ALS?

  • 11:26:58

    JAMIEThe official date of the diagnosis was June 5, 2014.

  • 11:27:05

    KAYDENYou seem to maintain pretty good spirits. How do you do this?

  • 11:27:10

    JAMIEWell, thank you. I think that my spirits are a reflection of my attitude towards life and living and dying. And that is that dying is as natural a part of life as being born and all the living we do during our lives. Yes, it's going to happen sooner than I wanted. And, yes, I wouldn't have chosen this disease if I had an option. That option was not given to me. And therefore, my life includes ALS and my life includes dying from ALS.

  • 11:27:54

    KAYDENRight now, what are you most grateful for?

  • 11:27:57

    JAMIERight now, I'm most grateful for the loving family that I have, which includes my lovely wife, Maren (sp?), first and foremost, followed by all of my children and my grandchildren, including you, Kayden, and all the dear friends that I have all over the world.

  • 11:28:20

    KAYDENThank you, Jamie.

  • 11:28:22

    JAMIEYou're welcome, Kayden.

  • 11:28:24


  • 11:28:27

    REHMThat is just so powerful.

  • 11:28:31

    ISAYAnd I know Jamie died on his 63rd birthday, a couple of months ago. Yeah, you know, again, what happens in StoryCorps is that you get to talk about things that you may not normally talk about and say the things that you may not normally, you know, feel comfortable saying. Partly, it's the, you know, it's knowing that this is done for history. It's the microphone. You know, I was saying, before we played the clip that in, you know, in some ways, I think that StoryCorps shares the ethos of hospice, in that, you know, one of the things that hospice workers say to people who are dying or who are family of the dying is that there are things you want to say before you die. Thank you. I love you. Forgive me. I forgive you.

  • 11:29:19

    ISAYIn the case of that Shokier story, I mean, he was actively dying. But, you know, in the vast majority of the cases of StoryCorps, it's conversations between two people. I mean, we're all dying every minute, but we're not actively dying. But I think it does give you the chance to have that -- to say those important things and have a sense of closure with the people who matter to you, you know, now. And, you know, and essentially, you know, StoryCorps, I like to think, is just a shake on the shoulder that reminds people, you know, this is what's important.

  • 11:29:45

    REHMAnd it's remarkable that he, with ALS, continued to have strength enough in those vocal cords...

  • 11:29:55


  • 11:29:55 continue to speak.

  • 11:29:57

    ISAYIndeed. Although it wasn't long after that when he did -- he wasn't able to speak anymore.

  • 11:30:02

    REHMSo his granddaughter must have...

  • 11:30:04

    ISAYGrandson, yeah.

  • 11:30:05

    REHMGrandson must have been so pleased to have that. So, what about the teachers? What are they saying to you?

  • 11:30:16

    ISAYWell, I've been, you know, we -- because the app came out fairly recently -- very recently, and we launched the Great Thanksgiving Listen idea, you know, very recently, you know it's been -- we've been moving very quickly. So, first, we were lucky enough to get all of the big teachers' organizations nationally to sign on. The teachers' unions and the Department of Education is working with us. And then we went district to district. And, you know, I've been -- and we've had -- I'm leaving here to the D.C. public schools. We have -- Chicago has signed on, Boston, school districts across the country. And it...

  • 11:30:52

    REHMSo what are you asking those teachers to do?

  • 11:30:55

    ISAYSo what the teachers are doing is they are spending -- usually spending one, sometimes two classes with students. If it's one class, to talk to the students about who they're going to interview and what questions they're going to ask. And then, as a voluntary assignment over Thanksgiving weekend, these students will go and interview and elder. And our goal is to double our archive in a weekend, to do 65,000 interviews. Now, I don't -- I think it's very unlikely we're going to pull that off. It's a huge stretch goal but you got to dream, you know?

  • 11:31:26

    ISAYAnd especially in this, you know, in this moment. You know, this is -- one of the great things about StoryCorps is it's, you know, it's about listening. It's about remembering the grace and the poetry and the stories all around us. And...

  • 11:31:37

    REHMYou know what I love most about StoryCorps -- what we hear on broadcasts, even such as this -- are people talking from perspectives, points of view, whether it's political, whether it's economic.

  • 11:31:54


  • 11:31:55

    REHMThese are human beings simply speaking from the heart.

  • 11:32:00

    ISAYWell, you've got it. Exactly. I mean, this is -- it's the opposite of reality TV and of so much of what you hear anywhere. I mean, nobody comes to get rich. Nobody comes to get famous. They're just connecting with another person. And I should say that there's nobody who comes to StoryCorps who goes there for the purpose of getting on the radio. That's not -- and if they do, which is very rare, they're not getting on the radio.

  • 11:32:22

    REHMHow do you think the younger people are affected by interviewing an elder? What do you think happens?

  • 11:32:33

    ISAYWell, I think it's the same for younger people and older people. I mean, I think what -- I think that it creates connections. I think that you get to talk -- you get to talk about things that just don't get talked about. You know, this is really an experiment for us. Because the, you know, the demographics of the people who participate in StoryCorps, we don't have, you know, these -- it's going to be 10th and 11th graders who do this Great Thanksgiving Listen, who are 14, 15, 16, you know, maybe 17. And that is not our core demographic with StoryCorps.

  • 11:33:06

    REHMNor with NPR generally.

  • 11:33:08

    ISAYYeah, nor with -- that's right. But I was in a classroom in Chicago last week with 11th graders who are going to participate. All their families had come from Mexico. And they, again, they just got it. You know, there's awkwardness, you know, that you don't necessarily see in people who are older, but also a hunger, you know, to connect. And part of what I love about this is that, you know, cell phones are in so many ways, kind of, drive us deeper into ourselves. And this is an opportunity to use a mobile device to meaningfully connect with another human being. So, and I think it -- I mean, I know that it means a lot to people.

  • 11:33:48

    REHMDavid Isay is founder and executive director of StoryCorps. And we've talking about the Great American Thanksgiving Listen.

  • 11:34:02

    ISAYI love the way you say that.

  • 11:34:05

    REHMWhich is going to happen next weekend. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I hope, in fact, that that's going to continue. My grandson is coming down to visit me on December 17. So even though it will be past Thanksgiving...

  • 11:34:29

    ISAYYou -- yeah.

  • 11:34:30


  • 11:34:30

    ISAYWell, the idea is to do it -- it's really to do it at anytime. And, you know, we just -- it's just sticking a pin in a map, you know, blindfolded, to pick Thanksgiving. But we wanted to give people, you know, a time to coalesce around this. But the app is always there. And, you know, and we hope that people will pick it up and use it. I mean, I can guarantee two things. One is that you're going to find out things about the person who you interview that you didn't know before, no matter how well you know them. And the other is that you're never going to regret it.

  • 11:34:56

    REHMDave, tell people how to download that app.

  • 11:35:01

    ISAYSo it's very easy, whether you go to the Google Play Store or the App Store and you search for StoryCorps, and it shows up and you download and, you know, you're ready to go.

  • 11:35:11

    REHMThere you go. And let's open the phones. 800-433-8850. First, to Detroit, Mich. Paul, you're on the air.

  • 11:35:25

    PAULHi. Good morning to you all.

  • 11:35:26


  • 11:35:27

    PAULI've loved StoryCorps from the start. And I think it's part and parcel for me eventually deciding to do work in palliative care, after listing to those stories. So thank you for that. I have an issue I'd like to ask you about and that is, you touched on this briefly, the fact checking.

  • 11:35:45


  • 11:35:45

    PAULIs there a fact-checking facet to producing stories on StoryCorps, especially with the inclusion of this new app? And is that a concern to you?

  • 11:35:54

    ISAYWell, what we broadcast on NPR, those stories are fact-checked to, kind of, New Yorker Magazine level of fact checking, which is the highest level there is.

  • 11:36:03

    REHMWhich is a big fact checking.

  • 11:36:05

    ISAYYeah. So we do extremely intensive, line-by-line fact checking, I think different than anything else on public radio and maybe in broadcast media, because what we're doing is so different and we don't want to make a mistake here. I should say that we've only had -- we've had maybe 580 broadcasts -- 580 Fridays in a row, and there's only one that didn't check out, of those 580. So, but the other interviews that come in, we don't fact check. The interviews on the app that are not -- that just show up on the stream, are not fact checked. And that's, you know, it's vagaries of human memory. You know, you don't know. There's no way to fact check that stuff. And to some extent, you know, it -- that's not the point.

  • 11:36:49

    ISAYI mean, I think that if people were actively using StoryCorps to tell untruths, I would be concerned. But I've never seen that.

  • 11:36:59

    REHMHow serious was the one you had to pull?

  • 11:37:04

    ISAYWell, we, you know, it was somebody who told a story of being in a coal-mining disaster that he wasn't in. But he had been traumatized in another one and, you know, it's -- it was understandable but it wasn't true.

  • 11:37:17

    REHMAll right. Short break here. More of your calls, email, when we come back. Stay with us.

  • 11:40:01

    REHMWelcome back. Dave Isay is with me. Founder and executive director of StoryCorps. And let's take a caller in Phoenix, Ariz. Hi there, Marion.

  • 11:40:18

    MARIONHello. Nice to speak with you.

  • 11:40:21

    REHMThank you. You as well.

  • 11:40:23

    MARIONI wanted to just say that I may have to buy a smart phone just to get the app. But my question or actually my comment was, when my husband and I did StoryCorps here in Phoenix when it came several years back, it was really a revelation to us, because we had to stop and think ahead of time about our lives, and about what we wanted to have recorded. And it made us reflect, I think, deeper than we might have just normally. So it was a very -- a really good experience for us, simply because it forced us to think about things that we had not thought about before. So it was a pleasure. It was really exciting. We loved it. It was fun.

  • 11:41:13

    ISAYThank you so much.

  • 11:41:14

    REHMI'm glad things worked out that way.

  • 11:41:17

    ISAYMe too.

  • 11:41:18

    REHMThere is a clip here we have from Mary Johnson and Oshea Israel. Tell us about that day.

  • 11:41:29

    ISAYSure. So this speaks to the kind of amazing things that can happen in StoryCorps. Oshea Israel, when he was a teenager, got in a gang fight with a man named -- young man, an 18-year-old, named Laramiun Byrd, and killed him, shot him and killed him and went to prison. Mary Johnson was the mom of Laramiun Byrd. That was her only child. And about a dozen years into Oshea Israel's prison sentence, she went to the penitentiary to meet him, to find out who this person was who had killed her son, and then visited again and again. They developed a friendship.

  • 11:42:06

    ISAYAnd when he was released, he moved in next door to her. And they came to StoryCorps a couple months after he got out of the penitentiary to have this conversation.

  • 11:42:18

    MS. MARY JOHNSONYou and I met at Stillwater Prison. I wanted to know if you were in the same mindset of what I remember from court where I wanted to go over and hurt you, but you were not that 16-year-old. You were a grown man. I shared with you about my son.

  • 11:42:39

    MR. OSHEA ISRAELAnd he became human to me, you know. When I met you, it was like, okay, this guy is real. And then when it was time to go, you broke down and started shedding tears and the initial thing to do was just try to hold you up as best I can. Just hug you like I would my own mother.

  • 11:42:59

    JOHNSONAfter you left the room, I began to say it. I just hugged the man that murdered my son. And I instantly knew that all that anger and animosity, all the stuff I had in my heart for 12 years for you, I knew it was over, that I had totally forgiven you.

  • 11:43:20

    ISRAELAs far as receiving forgiveness from you, sometimes I still don't know how to take it because I haven't totally forgiven myself yet. It's something that I'm learning from you.

  • 11:43:32

    JOHNSONMy natural son is no longer here. I didn't see him graduate. Now you're going to college. I'll the opportunity to see you graduate. I didn't see him get married. Hopefully one day I'll be able to experience that with you.

  • 11:43:49

    ISRAELJust to hear you say those things and to be in my life in the manner that which you are is my motivation. It motivates me to make sure that I stay on the right path. You still believe in me, and the fact that you can do it despite how much pain I caused you, it's amazing.

  • 11:44:07

    REHMIt is amazing. Dave Isay, how has that story gone on?

  • 11:44:17

    ISAYBetween the two of them? You know, I don't know. I mean, I wasn't -- I've never met them. Sometimes when I'm on book tour or giving lectures, I get to meet folks who are in the -- who have participated in StoryCorps. I haven't met these two. But I know that they travel around together now and talk about reconciliation. And Mary has a nonprofit that's for ex-offenders, so I think the work carries on, yeah.

  • 11:44:47

    REHMGosh, really led them both didn't it? Let's go to Beth in Baltimore, Md. You're on the air.

  • 11:44:56

    BETHHello. Good morning.

  • 11:44:57


  • 11:44:57

    BETHI wanted to thank you for this amazing gift of StoryCorps and encourage families even with very young children to participate. We did this about a decade ago when my children were five and seven with their grandparents, and helped them with the questions. And it was an amazing experience for everyone. We recorded it and we played it at my mother-in-law's funeral, and years later my kids still talk about how powerful it was to connect with their grandmother in that way.

  • 11:45:27

    ISAYThank you so much. Yeah, and please I hope everybody, you know, Thanksgiving is a week from today, right? Is it Thursday? I've lost track.

  • 11:45:34

    REHMIt's a Thursday.

  • 11:45:36

    ISAYAnd, you know, if you -- I know most teachers are probably in school now, but do call the high school that you went to or the school that your kids go to, and tell them about The Listen. We have a website,, with teacher toolkits and information about how to participate. And as you had that experience with your folks and your kids, you know, let's create a little national moment around this.

  • 11:45:58

    REHMAnd here's one that was done using the app, Twila Kelly (sp?) interviews her grandmother, Christine Terry (sp?).

  • 11:46:11

    MS. TWILA KELLYI am recording our grandmother. And her name is Christine Terry. Say hey, Grandma.

  • 11:46:17


  • 11:46:19

    KELLYShare with me some of your happiest memories.

  • 11:46:23

    TERRYWhen I married your grand dad, I remember it just like it was yesterday. I walked down the aisle and I saw the man that made me happy. The man that just made me melt inside. He cry when I walk down the aisle, because if he hadn't, I was going to turn around and (unintelligible).

  • 11:46:47

    KELLYWhat are the keys to a strong relationship? Because you and Papa are the perfect example.

  • 11:46:54

    TERRYYou got to forgive, forgive, forgive. You understand?

  • 11:46:59

    KELLYYes, ma'am.

  • 11:47:01

    ISAYI haven't heard that before.

  • 11:47:02

    REHMThat's the first time you've heard that.

  • 11:47:05


  • 11:47:06

    REHMWalking down the aisle...

  • 11:47:07


  • 11:47:07

    REHM...was her happiest memory. Well, I understand that very well. Let's -- a few emails like this one, is the new StoryCorps app usable on Windows phones, or is it just for iPhones and Androids?

  • 11:47:28

    ISAYRight now it's just iPhones and Androids, and eventually it'll be for Windows. So if you don't -- if you don't have an iPhone or Android phone, then try and -- you know, you can borrow someone's to use it, and then you'll have your own sign-in. And then you can access that on your desktop. So borrow a phone if you can, if you don't have an iPhone or an Android phone.

  • 11:47:48

    REHMAnd here's a tweet, "Given the importance of other languages in the U.S., have you considered adding some bilingual StoryCorps?

  • 11:48:02

    ISAYSo we have recorded StoryCorps in something like 95 languages so far. Because it's a citizen generated project, you know, we have people who come in and record in any language, and that's perfectly fine. Usually at -- all of the facilitators who work for StoryCorps, almost all are at least bilingual. And we encourage people to do this in whatever language they're comfortable doing it in. And eventually the app itself will be translated into different languages.

  • 11:48:32

    REHMAll right. And Nada in Arcadia, Fla. has an interesting question. Go right ahead, please.

  • 11:48:42

    NADAGood morning.

  • 11:48:46


  • 11:48:47

    NADAI'm a teacher of the deaf, and I have students that would love to share their stories on StoryCorps.

  • 11:48:52


  • 11:48:52

    NADAHowever, you don't have the capability or do you plan on adding video so individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing can communicate their stories using sign language?

  • 11:49:04

    ISAYYes, that's a great question, and it's something we think about a lot. We will eventually figure out a way to make the StoryCorps app fully accessible to the deaf community. And it'll probably involve Skype or something like that. We just haven't -- we haven't done it yet, but it's something that's on our mind. And we do -- in the booth, we did a series of interviews at Galadet (sp?) and used video, so that's the only time we will ever allow video into the StoryCorps booth, when we're working with the deaf community.

  • 11:49:37

    REHMGood. And to Patricia in Miami, Fla. You're on the air.

  • 11:49:43

    PATRICIAHi. Good morning. I'm honored to be speaking to both of you.

  • 11:49:46

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:49:47

    PATRICIAI just wanted to -- I have just two very, and I'll try to be brief, comments. One is that my organization, War Mamas, which interviews soldiers mothers has partnered twice with StoryCorps here in Miami last year and this year in the military voices initiative. And it was an extraordinary experience. I've never met a more professional and compassionate group of people than those that are StoryCorps.

  • 11:50:10

    ISAYThank you.

  • 11:50:10

    PATRICIAAnd the second comment I wanted to make was the Nobel Prize for literature that was just given to Svetlana Alexievich, a Belarusian journalist and writer. And all of her work -- most of her work is a series of interviews. And the last book, "The Zinky Boys," is about Afghan veterans and their mothers and families. And it's an oral history that I think has global repercussions, and I think that StoryCorps -- I believe strongly in the legacy that StoryCorps is going to leave for our children and our grandchildren. I just salute you, Mr. Isay. And I hope you will continue doing this work. It has a global impact.

  • 11:50:54

    ISAYWell, thank you. And thanks for partnering with us. I mean, we -- you give the work life by helping to spread the word and bring people to the booth to have the experience, so thank you so much.

  • 11:51:04

    REHMHere's an email from Casey who says he has about three hours of cassette recordings of his father before he died. He was a World War II vet in the Philippines, grew up on a farm in rural Ohio in the '20s as electricity was coming in. "Is there any way I could have these cassettes archived?"

  • 11:51:34

    ISAYSo for 12 years the answer was no, and I should say there's a wonderful project at the American Folk Life Center at the Library of Congress called the Veterans Rural History Project, where you can submit the recordings. But now with StoryCorps, since we have the app, if you go to our website,, there is a button so that you can upload interviews. So you can transfer your cassettes, make them digital, and then go to, put in metadata so people can know what's there, and then absolutely upload them with a photo.

  • 11:52:05


  • 11:52:05

    ISAYAnd they will become part of the archive at the Library of Congress.

  • 11:52:07

    REHMFantastic. Here's an email from Annie in Charleston, W.V., "I had a national Rosie the Riveter movement after seven years of learning how to find the interview and include these women in passing to the future their valid legacy. Today do you work with groups that interview important groups for America who are disappearing quickly?"

  • 11:52:39

    ISAYWe work with everybody. You know, we work with about 500 nonprofits each year, like the caller earlier from the War Mamas' group. I believe that's what it was called. We work with 500, 600 organizations a year across the country partnering with them so that they can tell the folks that they work with, that they serve about StoryCorps, and bring them into the booths to record these interviews. And now, obviously with the app, we're going to be able to scale that work significantly.

  • 11:53:07

    REHMSo now, listen to how your work is spreading worldwide. But before I do that, you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." This is from Patricia. She says, "I involved my two children in story gathering from their grandparents and close older friends since they were in early elementary school. Now my daughter is a fellow working with the Nepal Participatory Network in Nepal where she's hoping to develop together a story telling relationship between the youth and the elderly. Who is the best person at StoryCorps for her to talk with?"

  • 11:54:00

    ISAYYou know, with the app now, it's so -- you don't have to talk to a person. You can just download the app and start recording. We do not -- you know, StoryCorps' grown a lot in the last 12 years, and our dream is someday to, you know, be part of the fabric of this country and to move the needle a little bit on making this country listen better to each other and, you know, recognize the dignity in everybody's stories. But we have a very, very, very long way to go.

  • 11:54:24

    ISAYSo we are staying very focused on the U.S. for the next bunch of years until we really have a strong foothold here. And then eventually we will go around the rest of the world. But once this app was released, you could do StoryCorps anywhere. So she should -- we have all kinds of resources on the -- if you go to, which is the app web page, and everything should be self-explanatory there. It's very, very easy to do.

  • 11:54:50

    REHMGive our listeners some ideas of questions they might ask of their elders.

  • 11:54:58

    ISAYSo on the app, as I said, there are best questions...

  • 11:55:01


  • 11:55:01

    ISAY...and hundreds of other questions. I mean, I think the questions that work better are some of the questions you heard in these clips. You know, I think that the big life questions worked very well. I think the fact that people know that generations from now people will be listening to this, questions like, is there anything you want to say to your great-great-great-great-grandkids who will listen to this one day? Wisdom you want to pass down to them? How do you want to be remembered? The lessons you've learned in life.

  • 11:55:25

    ISAYThose kind of questions work very well. But what the facilitators will tell you, when you go to the booth before you go in to do an interview is ask that question you've always wanted to ask. And the time goes by very quickly, so don't wait too long to ask it. You might want to take, you know, five minutes to warm up, ten minutes to warm up, asking questions about what was your childhood like and, you know, who are your parents. And then get into those things that you really want to talk about.

  • 11:55:48

    REHMAnd what's a good age for a child to begin asking those questions?

  • 11:55:55

    ISAYSo I think that 13 is the appropriate -- 13, 14 and certainly on the app we do not -- legally we cannot accept stories from people under 13 years old. But that is also the correct age, I think, when -- I mean, we don't have kids come to the booth, for the most part, who are younger than 12 or 13. And that's the time when people are -- I think kids are able to have these sorts of conversations. But we see on the app people using it with young children all the time.

  • 11:56:33

    REHMAnd let me read you a final email.

  • 11:56:36


  • 11:56:37

    REHMFrom Anne, she says, "Of all the wonderful shows on NPR, StoryCorps is a powerful gem of a segment. It never fails to move me. Thank you, Dave Isay." And that's from Anne in Milford, Mich.

  • 11:56:59

    ISAYThank you, Anne.

  • 11:57:00

    REHMAnd thank you, Dave Isay...

  • 11:57:02

    ISAYIt's great to see you, Diane.

  • 11:57:02

    REHM...for all you've done. And I'll see you again, God willing.

  • 11:57:06

    ISAYI hope so.

  • 11:57:08

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:57:08

    ISAYI hope so. Thanks, Diane.

  • 11:57:09

    REHMAnd thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.

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