This Thanksgiving, Listen To (And Interview) Your Elders

Oct 14, 2015
Originally published on October 14, 2015 11:16 am

StoryCorps has an assignment as generations gather this Thanksgiving: Document the stories and voices of a grandparent or elder.

The project is called The Great Thanksgiving Listen, and StoryCorps is asking history teachers to encourage their students to record the interviews using the StoryCorps app over Thanksgiving weekend. The app helps users select questions and record and then upload interviews to the StoryCorps archive in the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

StoryCorps has also created a toolkit for the project for teachers, though everyone, not just students, is invited to use the app and record over Thanksgiving.

"If we can pull this off, it will create a very powerful and important bottom-up history, history through our voices, through our family's voices and stories of the last 75, 80, 90 years of United States history," StoryCorps founder Dave Isay tells NPR's Renee Montagne. "I hope that's what comes out of The Great Thanksgiving Listen."

Isay says the goal of the Thanksgiving weekend project is to record as many interviews as StoryCorps has collected so far. "We've recorded about 65,000 interviews ... and we want to double it," he says.

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StoryCorps - you hear it every Friday. It collects and preserves people's stories from around the country. And we share some of those stories here on MORNING EDITION.


Now, as families gather for Thanksgiving, StoryCorps is issuing a special callout - record an interview with one of your loved ones.

MONTAGNE: It's The Great Thanksgiving Listen. David Isay is the founder of StoryCorps.

David, welcome.

DAVID ISAY: Hi, Renee.

MONTAGNE: You, David Isay, and StoryCorps, you are looking, as you put it, to document an entire generation of American lives in a very ambitious way. And I guess what better time to make that happen than when different generations gather for Thanksgiving?

ISAY: Yeah, I mean, it is - it's a little bit crazy. And, you know, there's no guarantee we can do this. But we released an app, our first StoryCorps app, a couple of months ago, which is kind of a digital facilitator so that you can record an interview on your mobile device anytime, anyplace. And it's been amazing to see what's happened over the last six months. People picking this up from all over the country, and it's been really magnificent and incredibly moving to behold.

MONTAGNE: Well, I must say, though, when you're talking about technology, I love - love - airstream trailers - your airstream - your trailers. But this mobile app really opens up the world. And what's interesting is you are talking about kids interviewing their grandparents or their elders or an elder that they care about. But is it just for teachers and kids? I mean, could someone hearing this who's interested in doing it do it themselves? Or do you want to save it for a particular group?

ISAY: No, absolutely. Look, anybody can use the app any time, and we'd love to have as many people record over Thanksgiving as possible. I mean, our goal is to try over that weekend to record as many interviews as we've recorded in the last dozen years. We've recorded about 65,000 interviews. It's the largest single collection of human voices ever gathered, and we want to double it.

So this is easy to use for anybody any age. I mean, it's very simply. It basically walks you through the interview process, let's you choose your questions. You choose how much time you want to spend recording, and then you hit record. And then at the end you take a selfie, and then you hit a button and it goes to the Library of Congress.

MONTAGNE: You've enlisted history teachers, and I'm curious if you're hoping that the elders, the people who are being interviewed about their lives and their experiences, will in some way bring in a bit more about the world around them as it was back then than they might otherwise.

ISAY: Well, you know, that happens in every StoryCorps interview because, you know, history - we live through history. It's - and what people are talking about in a StoryCorps interview are, you know, the most important moments in their lives. The way this works is that we have a curriculum for teachers to download, and the teachers will spend a day in the classroom working with kids to figure out who they're going to interview and what they want to talk about. And certainly historical events are going to be a part of that. And I do think that, you know, if we can pull this off, it will create a very powerful and important kind of bottom-up history, history through our voices, through our family's voices and stories of the last 75-80-90 years of United States' history. And I hope that that's part of what comes out of The Great Thanksgiving Listen.

MONTAGNE: David Isay is the founder of StoryCorps. It's such a pleasure always to talk to you.

ISAY: Great to talk to you, Renee. Thank you so much.


MONTAGNE: And it's easier than ever to be part of history. As we've just heard, you can record your story this Thanksgiving weekend. Go to and search Great Listen to find out how. That's Great Listen. This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.