Whatever happened to ... the man who got people talking

Whatever happened to . . .

By COLETTE BANCROFT, Times Book Editor
Published November 11, 2007

"You talk, they listen"; Jan. 17, 2006
See past coverage at life.tampabay.com.

THE STORY: In October 2003, radio documentary producer Dave Isay began recording the stories of ordinary people interviewing each other. He called the oral history projectStoryCorps.

From one booth in Grand Central Station, the project grew to another New York location at the World Trade Center site, then expanded nationwide with two touring Airstream trailers. As National Public Radio listeners heard some of the stories on the air, thousands of people came with family members and friends for the interviews, including dozens who made reservations during StoryCorps' 2006 stop in Sarasota.

FROM THE STORY: In an Airstream trailer parked on St. Armands Circle on a sunny January day, Joy Rubin tells her husband, Marvin, the story of her brother's death in World War II. They've been married 51 years, and he has never heard it before.

Afterward, they hold hands tightly. "I've never talked about it," she says. "No one in my family ever did." But in a tiny, darkened recording booth with a soft-spoken facilitator, she put the story on the record. One copy of the CD will go to the Library of Congress, one will go home with the Rubins. "I want our four daughters to know about this," she says.

THE REST OF THE STORY: This month, Isay published Listening Is an Act of Love: A Celebration of American Life From the StoryCorps Project. The book and a companion CD highlight several dozen of the 15,000 interviews recorded so far. Isay, 41, says he and his mother, an editor, combed through about 3,000 interviews that the project's facilitators selected to make the choice.

StoryCorps is now one of the fastest-growing nonprofits in the country, Isay says, with a staff that has grown from eight to 80 and three of those specially equipped Airstreams on tour. "It continues to generate this amazing interest wherever we go."

Isay says he thought the stories might become repetitious. "But they get better and better. My cynicism about many things has decreased greatly because of this."

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT: Isay says he expects to devote "the rest of my life" to StoryCorps. "I'm out there every day evangelizing and fundraising. I hope it outlives us all.

"It's about honoring the stories of older people, of all the angels in our lives. . . . The stories of everyday people are the most important of all."

If you can't wait for StoryCorps to visit your community, the Web site, www.storycorps.net, offers do-it-yourself tips. "Around Thanksgiving, pull a loved one into a quiet room and interview them. Write it down, tape record it," Isay says.

"Listening is an act of love."

ON THE WEB: Two Sarasota residents, James Ransom and Cherie Johnson, remember their neighbor and Sunday school teacher on the StoryCorps Web site. To listen, go to www.storycorps.net and search "James Ransom."