NPR's Steve Inskeep has a confession to make. In order to remain composed as the host of Morning Edition, he sometimes has to turn the volume down in the studio when the StoryCorps segment airs on Fridays.
"I just wait for the clock to run down so I know when to talk at the end because otherwise I know I'm going to lose it if I listen to that story," Inskeep tells StoryCorps founder Dave Isay. "It's deeply moving."
Over the past 10 years, the oral history project has collected about 50,000 interviews with about 100,000 people in all 50 states. The project's goal is to give people of all backgrounds the chance to share and record the stories of their lives. StoryCorps is marking its 10th anniversary.
Isay says he got the idea for StoryCorps when he was a freelance radio producer. He had worked on a radio documentary and then later on a book about the Bowery, the New York City neighborhood, and the homeless who lived in flophouses there.
"I remember bringing the galley of the book up into the flophouse, and I handed it to one of the guys and he opened it up to his page and he took the book out of my hand and he held it over his head and he ran down the hall and he started shouting, 'I exist! I exist!' " Isay says. "And that was kind of a clarion call for StoryCorps. That's what it's all about."
At its core, Isay says, StoryCorps is "about giving two people the chance to have this conversation for 40 minutes, and it tells them their lives matter and they won't be forgotten."
So, do the stories ever make Isay cry? Sure, he says.
"I think about technology a little bit," he says. "There are certain answers that technology, for all of its wonders, will never be able to give us. And I think those are the kind of answers that you get through StoryCorps, which is about what's really forcing people to think about what's important in life."
And as StoryCorps celebrates its 10th anniversary, all week NPR will be revisiting some of your favorite stories. StoryCorps' new book, Ties that Bind, is being released on Monday.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "STORYCORPS THEME")
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Ah. For years now this music has reminded MORNING EDITION listeners to prepare for another American Story, the often inspiring, or edgy or devastatingly honest tales of people who interview each other at StoryCorps. The oral history project is celebrating its 10th anniversary and this week we are revisiting some of your favorite stories.
(SOUNDBITE OF "STORYCORPS" CLIPS)
BLANCA ALVAREZ: My name is Blanca Alvarez.
RICK KINCAID: My name is Rick Kincaid.
KAITLYN SEVER: I'm Kaitlyn. I'm being interviewed by my mom.
ED TRINKA: My father told me to live such a life that if everybody lived a life like yours, this would be God's Paradise.
JOSHUA LITTMAN: Did I turn out to be the son you wanted?
SARAH LITTMAN: You've exceeded my expectations, sweetie.
DOTTIE COPELAND: When I pass on, they can say she had one great ride.
INSKEEP: A sampling there of many voices from the past decade of StoryCorps, founded by David Isay who got the idea when he was working as a freelance radio producer.
DAVID ISAY: I did a documentary for NPR awhile ago about the Bowery where, you know, homeless guys used to live in the old flophouses there.
INSKEEP: In Manhattan.
ISAY: And I did a book after that. And I remember bringing the galley of the book up into the flophouse, and I handed it to one of the guys and he opened it up to his page and he took the book out of my hand and he held it over his head and he ran down the hall and he started shouting: I exist. I exist. You know? And that was kind of, like, a clarion call for StoryCorps. You know, that's what it's all about.
INSKEEP: And there must have been thousands of people who've had that feeling coming out of these booths and trailers, and so forth that you've set up all around the country.
ISAY: Yeah, well, we've done about 50,000 interviews with about a hundred thousand people in all 50 states. And that is the core of what - that StoryCorps experience is about; giving two people the chance to have this conversation for 40 minutes, and it tells them their lives matter and they won't be forgotten.
INSKEEP: Who, if anyone, had done anything like this before you started 10 years ago?
ISAY: Well, we walk in the footsteps of projects like the WPA recordings that were made during the 1930s and '40s that I used to go listen to at the American Folk Life Center at the Library of Congress, here in Washington.
INSKEEP: This is putting people to work, basically interviewing other people doing...
ISAY: Regular - yes, every day people. So it wasn't about interviewing famous people, but just going on someone's porch and finding out what their lives were like. And I remember in the early days of StoryCorps, having, you know, fears that there would be, like, Jerry Springer moments and people would, like, bring guns to the booth and shoot each other. And 50,000 interviews later, every single pair of people who's come to the booth has treated the process with respect.
INSKEEP: When you listen to these stories, which sometimes make millions of people cry, do you ever cry?
ISAY: Sure. But, you know, I think that people - like, especially over the last couple of months - there's kind of been this tidal wave of this thing about StoryCorps making people cry. And...
INSKEEP: Oh no, that's for years.
INSKEEP: I get notes every week about mascara-ruined...
ISAY: Yeah, I get the mascara...
INSKEEP: ...about people having to stop the car.
ISAY: Yeah, it's true. And, you know, and I think about technology a little bit. There are certain, you know, answers that technology, for all of its wonders, will never be able to give us. And I think those are the kind of answers that you get through StoryCorps, which is about what's, you know, really forcing people to think about what's important in life.
INSKEEP: Actually, I use a bit of technology when we're playing these...
ISAY: What's that?
INSKEEP: Over hear in the studio there's a dial, a couple of dials to the headphone volume.
INSKEEP: I sometimes - I turn it down, David.
INSKEEP: I just wait for the clock to run down so I know when to talk at the end. Because otherwise, I know I'm going lose it if I listen to that story.
INSKEEP: Once in a while, I've listen while it's on the air and it's just deeply moving.
ISAY: Whenever we make Steve Inskeep cry, my telephone and my email lights up...
ISAY: ...you made Inskeep cry. It's a good week.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
INSKEEP: StoryCorps founder Dave Isay. Let me just wipe a tear out here. All this week, we'll be checking back in with people you've heard over the years to find out how they're doing now. And the new StoryCorps book, "Ties that Bind," is being released on today.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.