Got a tale to tell?
StoryCorps is coming back to New Orleans in March and is looking to record residents’ stories for posterity.
The nonprofit oral-history initiative is working once again with local National Public Radio station WWNO, 89.9 FM, to sign up pairs of volunteers to come to its mobile recording studio from March 12 to April 8. There, with the help of a facilitator, one person will interview the other about a memorable life experience.
Organizers are hoping to archive more tales from the post-Hurricane Katrina recovery and hear from some new arrivals to the city, but the subject matter isn’t restricted to any particular topic, WWNO General Manager Paul Maassen said.
“New Orleanians love to talk, and I have no doubt that we’ll get a lot of interesting stories,” he said, estimating they will get about 140 stories during the four-week process.
Maassen said having the interviewer know the storyteller makes for interesting results. The familiarity helps coax the tale from the teller, but the story can still go in unexpected directions.
“Sometimes people are surprised at what comes out of the discussions,” Maassen said. “They say, ‘Wow, I didn’t know that’s where that was going to go.’
“People just find it to be a very powerful experience.”
Joni Scarnato Kobrock, who participated when StoryCorps was last in New Orleans in 2010, agreed.
Kobrock interviewed her father, Sam Scarnato, about the time he was 9 years old and the New York Yankees were playing an exhibition game in 1938 against the Butler Yankees in his hometown of Butler, Pennsylvania.
Scarnato, who was 80 when he told the tale to StoryCorps, went through the back fence with a flock of other children and stormed the field, cutting the game short. Many of the players left, but future Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig stayed behind and organized a pick-up game between two groups of boys.
He even taught Scarnato, a lefty like Gehrig, how to grip the bat correctly, and Scarnato used the grip throughout his playing career, right up through the minor leagues.
Scarnato died Monday after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease, and Kobrock, who had been by his side, caring for him, all the way, said she cherishes the time she spent with him that day in 2010 in front of the National World War II Museum, recording his story.
Even in the early stages of the disease, Kobrock said, “Dad was a fabulous storyteller.”
Kobrock said friends heard the recording and reached out to her, and having a copy of the recording for future generations is important.
“I can picture perfectly everything about that day,” she said, “and (the recording) really solidifies that memory.”
Maassen said that while the stories make for great broadcasts, the preservation of the voices of so many Americans and their experiences makes the project great.
“I think that part of it is really quite powerful,” he said. “Even if some part of it doesn’t make the broadcast for whatever reason, it’s still there.”
StoryCorps was founded in 2003 by award-winning documentary producer and MacArthur “genius” grant recipient Dave Isay, who wanted to create a growing portrait of who we are as Americans.
Having traveled across the country, StoryCorps has one of the largest collections of American voices ever gathered, with interviews collected from nearly 80,000 people in all 50 states.
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.