Entertainment TED Prize

7 StoryCorps stories that Dave Isay just can’t get out of his head

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StoryCorps brings together individuals for in-depth interviews. Some of Dave Isay’s favorite pairings: (from left) Kirk and Ryan Sharp, a father and his veteran son; Mary Johnson and Oshea Israel, a mother and the man who murdered her child; Lyle Link and Carly Dreher, grandfather and granddaughter. Photo: StoryCorps

I can’t tell you how completely shocked I am to win the TED Prize. For those of you who haven’t heard of StoryCorps, it’s a Brooklyn-based nonprofit I founded 11 years ago that, so far, has given 100,000 Americans the chance to record audio interviews about their lives. Participating in StoryCorps couldn’t be easier: you invite a loved one (or, really, anyone you choose) to a StoryCorps recording site. A trained facilitator greets you and explains the interview process. You’re then brought into a quiet recording room and seated across from your interview partner, each of you in front of a microphone. The facilitator hits “record,” and you share a 40-minute conversation. At the end of the session, you get a copy of the recording, and another copy goes to the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., where it will be preserved for generations to come. StoryCorps is about passing wisdom from one generation to the next: someday your great-great-great-grandchildren will be able to meet your grandfather, your mother, your best friend, or whomever it is you chose to honor with an interview.

Of course, some of these stories are heard in the present moment too. We share short excerpts from interviews every Friday on NPR’s Morning Edition and in podcasts, animations and books. We hope that these edited stories illustrate our shared humanity and show how much we all have in common.

On March 17—during TED2015—I’ll share my wish for where to go from here. But in the meantime, I picked some favorite stories to give you a sense of the work we do. Enjoy these stories, half animated and half audio.

1. Danny and Annie. This husband-and-wife duo of 27 years recorded their interview at our first booth in New York City in the days after we launched. We fell in love with them instantly.  Watch and you’ll see why.

2. Oshea Israel and Mary Johnson. An example of the kind of remarkable conversations that can happen in a StoryCorps booths—a mother speaks to the young man who murdered her only child.

3. Eyes on the Stars. For the 25th anniversary of the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster, our team went searching in our archive to see if anyone had ever talked about the disaster.  It turned out that the brother of one of the astronauts had come to a booth to record.

4. Lyle Link and Carly Dreher. Just a simple StoryCorps interview between a granddaughter and her grandfather.

5. John and Joe. We’ve launched about 10 big national initiatives focusing on particular groups of Americans, from veterans to those facing memory loss. Our first was with families who lost loved ones on 9/11. This is one of those stories.

6. Ryan and Kirk Sharp. An interview we aired this past week from our work with post-9/11 military veterans and their families.

7. Miss Devine. One of my favorite animations, to close out this list.

We have an amazing team of about 100 people who are working body and soul to build StoryCorps into a sustaining institution that recognizes that every life and story matters equally. We’re so excited to work with the TED community to further our mission and spread this message. See you at TED2015 in March!!!

Dave Isay

Dave Isay hard at work in a booth. Photo: StoryCorps

Dave Isay hard at work in a recording booth. Photo: StoryCorps

Dave Isay is the founder of StoryCorps, and the winner of the 2015 TED Prize. At the TED2015 conference, he will share an audacious wish on behalf of StoryCorps’ work. This session will be livestreamed for free. Tune in on Tuesday, March 17 starting at 5pm PDT.