Late last week, an Airstream trailer pulled up in a parking spot on West Temple in downtown Salt Lake City and hasn’t moved since.
Normally, the caravan would have already received a hundred parking tickets, but that didn’t happen, all because of the big red letters painted on the side: StoryCorps.
Anyone who knows what StoryCorps stands for knows you don’t turn down its iconic mobile van when it comes to your town, let alone give it a quote or tow it.
It may not be able to fix inflation or drought, or bridge the rift in Washington, but it can help restore your faith in humanity.
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The concept behind StoryCorps is so simple, so basic, when you hear it, you think, “No, it’ll never work”:
Two people who know each other sit in a recording booth and have a 40-minute conversation on the subject of their choice. When they’re done, they receive a copy of the recording, and another copy is sent to the Library of Congress for safekeeping in perpetuity.
That’s it. It’s StoryCorps. The goal is to get people – anyone and everyone – to share their stories with the world, thereby preserving the heartbeat and history of humanity.
David Isay, the New York-based radio producer who came up with the idea, certainly wasn’t betting his house would go anywhere when he set up a small recording booth in New York’s Grand Central Station in 2003 and invited passers-by to enter. .
It was an experiment to see if anyone might be interested. In New York no less. Would people even make eye contact, let alone stop for 40 minutes to have a conversation?
Telling the StoryCorps story, Isay admits, “I had no idea if it would work.”
But it worked. Four people recorded their conversations that day at Grand Central Station, and there was a queue behind them.
Thus encouraged, Isay invested himself body and soul in the expansion of StoryCorps. In 2005, two Airstream mobile booths – precursors to the one parked on West Temple – were launched in Washington, D.C. That same year, StoryCorps stories became a regular part of NPR’s national “Morning Edition” show. The popularity of these segments spawned a StoryCorps podcast, featuring stories based on StoryCorps conversations. In 2015, a StoryCorps app was created to allow people to record their oral histories from the privacy of their own mobile phone.
As a result, in less than 20 years, StoryCorps has registered over 600,000 people and deposited over 300,000 registrations with the Library of Congress. This is the largest collection of human voices – and stories – ever assembled.
Hosted by KUER, NPR’s Utah affiliate, the StoryCorps mobile booth will remain in downtown Salt Lake City until September 24, then move to Ogden for a two-week stay, September 26-October 7, before moving on to Las Vegas. .
Utah StoryCorps’ first on-site taping was on Thursday, September 8, the day the Airstream arrived in town. KUER invited acclaimed local writer Shannon Hale (author of “Princess Academy,” “Austenland,” and dozens of other published books) to have the inaugural conversation.
Shannon chose her husband, Dean, to be her interview partner. Not knowing exactly what they would talk about, they ended up spending their 40 minutes discussing their relationship and their love for each other.
Then they talked about “what a cool experience it was”.
“I didn’t think we were that interesting,” Dean joked.
Shannon confessed that she hadn’t heard of StoryCorps when KUER called.
Thinking it was a media event, the first question she asked was, “What do they want from me?”
Just a conversation, he is told.
“I found out they don’t want anything from you,” she says, “they want you to get something out of the experience.”
Alas, Dean and Shannon were unable to record their session inside the Airstream. COVID-19 restrictions rendered the mobile cabin unusable until mask-wearing disappeared completely. Instead, StoryCorps Salt Lake conversations are recorded inside the Museum of Contemporary Art in West Temple – as the Airstream sits on the pavement in front like a marquee.
In Ogden, the Airstream will be parked outside the Weber County Library at 2464 Jefferson Ave. Recordings will take place inside the building.
Six conversations will be recorded each day that StoryCorps is in Utah. To see if a slot is available, you can head to KUER.org, but be warned that you’ll likely be put on a waiting list as StoryCorps fans started lining up as soon as the Airstream made its grand entrance on West Temple. Everyone has a story, and StoryCorps has shown that there’s no shortage of people who would love to tell us theirs.