From the moment Lillie Love found out about StoryCorps, the groundbreaking oral history project thats broadcast on National Public Radio, she knew she was destined to help people record their memories. Every day at the projects Atlanta office based out of local NPR affiliate WABE 90.1 Love listens to the extraordinary stories of ordinary people. (To tell your story, visit the StoryCorps' Atlanta Web site.)
What is StoryCorps?
StoryCorps is an oral history project, and what we try to do is bring an extraordinary focus to ordinary lives. Not everybody is out scaling Kilimanjaro. People come into our story booth, and we record 40 minutes of whatever they want to talk about. With their permission, we archive these stories with the Library of Congress; and people get a kick out of going to Washington, DC and looking up their stories and their pictures. It makes you feel like you were actually here, that you were present, and that you counted.
How did you get involved in StoryCorps? What attracted you to this project?
I saw this job on idealist.org, and immediately I wanted it because the perfect job for me was just talking to people. People get irritated when theyre behind me in the grocery store because when I ask the cashier How are you? Hows your day going? I really expect an answer. I started an e-mail campaign and went on StoryCorps.org and looked up people in Human Resources. I started e-mailing people and saying You dont know me, but I am the perfect person for this job and let me tell you why I am: because I love talking to people, I love to engage people. And every so often, Id e-mail again and say Hey, I just wanted to make sure that Im still on your radar. Hey, its Lillie Love! Please let me know. So this woman finally e-mailed me and said Were not going to make a decision for a few months. So after two months, I e-mailed back and asked How do I know if Im out of the running? And she said Lets schedule you for a phone interview. And this job has been more than I thought it would be. Its just a perfect fit for me.
Describe your role as a facilitator with StoryCorps. What happens when you go into the booth to record a story?
This is a conversation. This is not Meet The Press. I ask to see the questions that theyve come up with and ask what they want to talk about. We go into the booth to do microphone checks and just have general conversations to put them at ease. I monitor the sound levels and make sure that they dont get too loud. While they talk, I also write comments down about what theyre saying so we will have the keywords at the end to know what they were talking about. The notes that Ive taken are archived along with their oral history. At the end of 40 minutes, we sign the releases and I finish up their recording and we take pictures. And I have just one rule: if I share time in the booth with you, I have to hug you. At some point during the day, every single day, theres some story that really makes me cry. When people start talking about love and commitment, thats when I start getting really weepy. Theres something that happens in the booth. When youre in the presence of profound love, it fills up the entire booth, and to be able to bear witness to that every day is remarkable.
Which really sad story sticks out to you?
Even in the saddest stories, there is some hope. One of the saddest stories was of someone who had a lung transplant. After living for nine years, that persons body rejected the lung. Theyre going to die, and they know that. When that person came here, they were just coming out of the shock and denial period and easing into planning and accepting. Even in the midst of that sadness, there was joy for the previous nine years.
Which really happy or funny story sticks out to you?
These two women were best friends; they could finish each others sentences. They were going on a trip somewhere in South America. They have opposite personalities, and you wonder how they became friends. They completed one another; thats why theyre friends. They were in the airport, and the one who is panicky and uptight was giving the laid back one a hard time about being late. The laid back one took the luggage and slung it on the floor, and then the uptight one opened the luggage and started throwing her friends stuff around the airport. Pretty soon they both started throwing stuff all over. The story just evolved and went on and on. I laughed so hard that I forgot I was recording. They ended up pulling it together and having a great vacation. They learned a lot about each other that night in the airport. They dared to trust their relationship enough to get that angry with one another.
What do you find most challenging about your work?
Trying to get people to know that were here. Its important to me that StoryCorps is here in the South. Sometimes people tell Southern stories in voices that are not authentically Southern. As a native Southerner, Im very sensitive about this. I get really angry about how we get depicted in whatever molasses-dripped tone people come up with. Some of us talk like that, and its okay if I talk like that in my own voice but not if you mimic me. We can now tell our own stories in our own voices.
What is most rewarding about your work?
The moment after people have their conversation. They look at each other and say I didnt know that about you. They think they know everything there is to know about somebody, but they havent had intentional conversations before. You tend to listen in the booth; there are no distractions. Theres no television. The phones not going to ring. So you become very intentional about what youre going to say.
Has a story ever completely rocked your world or changed a long-held belief?
I was getting to the point where I doubted whether or not genuine love exists outside of TV and movies. [StoryCorps] has changed the way I think about love. Love really is all there is as trite as that sounds. All the other stuff does not matter in the end. When you take your last breath, you remember the people you love, how much love you inspired and how much love you gave.
(Photo by Joeff Davis)
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