Idaho StoryCorps Special: Telling The Story Of Us

Oct 3, 2013

The StoryCorps recording booth was parked outside Boise City Hall for most of June and July 2013.
Credit Boise State University

Nearly 300 people stepped into the StoryCorps mobile recording booth to share their stories when it stopped in Boise this summer. Of the 131 interviews that were recorded in that booth, we've aired 14 of them on KBSX 91.5 fm.

It's part of a national oral history project known as StoryCorps. Since 2003, StoryCorps has collected and archived more than 50,000 interviews with nearly 90,000 people. Their conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Some of those interviews are broadcast during NPR's Morning Edition each Friday.

We launched our own Idaho StoryCorps series, airing interviews each Wednesday during Morning Edition on KBSX. One of those interviews struck a chord with many listeners. Charmagne Westcott and her biological mother Sherry Jurd told their story of how Charmagne hired a private detective to find her birth mother, Sherry.

Charmange Westcott and her biological mom Sherry Jurd.
Credit StoryCorps

Westcott and her biological mother met in person 16 years ago and have been inseparable ever since.  Westcott even moved from California to Boise to be closer to her mom. They get together often to go thrift shopping, watch movies, and eat Indian food and sushi. Now, Westcott is writing the story of her life online.

Our History Of Storytelling

When StoryCorps came to Idaho, people from across the region signed up to take part. Many more people would have loved a chance to sit down for 40 minutes with a friend or loved one and record their story for posterity. 

How did we get to this point -- sitting across from each other, telling stories and recording them? John Ziker studies how things like stories evolve. He's chairman of the anthropology department at Boise State University. Ziker says story telling goes back possibly to when we learned to use fire.

“Half a million years ago is the current evidence of how long people have been using fire,” Ziker says. “You can imagine ancient humans sitting around the hearth fire recounting their day or family histories that had particular meaning to them. Through history people tended to be more embedded in the story telling and the art of storytelling was probably more dispersed throughout the population. Whereas, now we’ve specialized in our careers and our skills and abilities and we’ve hired specialized people to tell us stories, professional story tellers basically. And maybe people don’t feel that their stories are being relayed in a way that they probably were going back in time.” 

What Makes A Good Story

Clay Morgan knows a thing or two about storytelling. Morgan teaches English at Boise State. He's published seven books, and was the first writer to win the Idaho Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts. Morgan also co-founded Story Story Night, the monthly storytelling event in downtown Boise.

We asked Morgan what makes a good story and how to captivate an audience.

Given his interest in storytelling, it's no surprise Morgan he visited the StoryCorps recording booth this summer to describe his wildland firefighting days as a smokejumper and details when one of those jumps went horribly wrong.

Storytelling As Therapy

Sisters Diane Hartman and Kathy Henrickson
Credit Samantha Wright / Boise State Public Radio

It was 2008 when the shiny StoryCorps airstream recording booth first came to Boise.  Diane Hartman and her sister Kathy Henrickson reserved a recording time to talk about losing their mother in a house fire.

StoryCorps has chosen the sisters’ story to be included in a new book of essays from the first 10 years of the project called, “Ties That Bind, Stories of Love and Gratitude From The First Ten Years of StoryCorps,” which comes out later this month.

Storytelling In The Digital Age

StoryCorps provides a unique platform in a culture that has grown to rely more and more on social media as a primary form of communication. 

Seth Ashley teaches journalism classes at Boise State.
Credit Boise State University

The 40 minutes participants spend in the StoryCorps booth are vastly different experiences from the Facebook message you received this morning from your mom or daughter.

Seth Ashley is an assistant professor of Journalism and Media Studies at Boise State University. He says there's no doubt storytelling is changing in the digital age.

Ashley says as sound bites and attention spans get shorter, society may begin to move toward a more visual medium of storytelling, that relies more on pictures and less on the printed word.

“[StoryCorps] say they want to create a culture of listening and that’s something I think we’ve seen decline with the advent of things like cable news and the way we often all shout at each other and don’t necessarily listen very well," says Ashley.  "So, I think that’s a great goal.”

StoryCorps is a national initiative to record and collect stories of everyday people.  Excerpts were selected and produced by Boise State Public Radio.

Copyright 2013 Boise State Public Radio