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For immediate release
May 10, 2000
Contact: Jessamyn Sarmiento
202-414-2307

THE NATIONAL STORY PROJECT on NPR

Washington, DC - For years, National Public Radio® (NPR®) has been telling stories to listeners. Now, we've asked listeners to join us in telling their stories.

Last fall, novelist Paul Auster, after participating as a guest on Weekend All Things Considered®, was asked if he would regularly tell stories on NPR. Auster said he would, but only if he could involve the NPR audience in telling their own. He asked listeners to send him their own humorous, real-life stories - small, turning point moments that were funny, poignant, or surprising. In turn, Auster offered to edit these short, non-fiction tales and read some of them on the air. From its debut last November, The National Story Project has quietly become one of the most popular features on NPR.

"Working on the Project is one of the most thrilling things I have ever done," Auster says. "What appeals to me most is the democracy of it. Everyone can take part; everyone's story is welcome. It's as if we're all trying to discover something together, slowly piecing together a picture of the world through thousands of different personal experiences."

Since the project began, Auster has heard from a western couple who found a bobcat in their house… using the toilet; from a witness to a Klan march who watched as a dog unmasked his hooded owner; and, from a man who lost a piece of jewelry in the Atlantic surf and found it in an antique store a decade later.

Auster receives several hundred letters and emails a month. From these he selects a half-dozen and shares them with host Jacki Lyden the first Saturday of each month on Weekend All Things Considered. June's National Story Project will air Saturday, June 3, 2000 at 5:00 PM EST. In addition, NPR will host an on-line chat at www.npr.org with Paul Auster on Friday June 2 from 6:00-7:00 p.m. During the hour-long chat, Auster will discuss what he looks for in a good story.

Known throughout the world as author of The New York Trilogy, The Music of Chance, Mr. Vertigo, and, most recently, Timbuktu, Auster also wrote the screenplays for Smoke and Blue in the Face.

"It's remarkable how many people write well," he says. "The stories keep pouring in - from old people and young people, from country people and city people, from every corner of society - the more I read, the more I learn about America." (To read stories that have already aired go to http://www.npr.org/programs/watc/991002.storyproject.html.)

Paul Auster and Jacki Lyden will be taping the June installment of The National Story Project on Wednesday May 17 in Auster's home in Brooklyn, New York. The National Story Project series producers are Rebecca Davis and Davar Ardalan. The Senior Editor of Weekend All Things Considered is Kitty Eisele and the Senior Producer of the program is Walter Ray Watson.

Renowned for its journalistic excellence and standard-setting news, information, and cultural programming, NPR reaches a growing audience of nearly 15 million Americans each week via more than 644 public radio stations. NPR® also distributes programming to listeners in Europe, Asia, Australia and Africa via NPR WorldwideSM, to military installations overseas via American Forces Network and throughout Japan via cable. Following are two National story project selections that were broadcast on NPR:

National Story Project, November, 1999

Marie Johnson of Fairbanks, Alaska, works at the University of Alaska library and is in charge of purchasing videos for the collection. As she puts it in her story, "I buy videotapes for a living. Over the years I've seen thousands of tapes. It's pretty routine after a while. Until last week. I put in a tape, a mother and her children riding in the car. The children ask where they are going. The mother replies, 'we're going to Santa Rosa.' I give a mental thumbs-up. After all, Santa Rosa is my hometown. I watch a while checking for sound and picture quality. I eject the tape and put in part II. It's night. A young girl is running down the street. She approaches a house, runs up the steps across the porch and climbs in a bedroom window. I move forward in my seat. It can't be. That is my porch and the window leads into my bedroom. Two girls are talking, but I don't hear what they're saying. I'm busy looking at the room. Window to the right, no closets, the house is too old for that. The fourteen-foot ceilings so hard to find curtains for. I stop the tape, my mind is spinning. This is the bedroom in the house I grew up in. I slept in that room with my grandmother in a small iron bed across the room from her. I eject the tape and put in the first tape again. Mother and children driving along the street. Now they are entering a neighborhood made up of different ethnic groups. Hispanic children playing in the street, a Vietnamese woman reading the paper, black men wearing gang colors talking in an alley. The car turns the corner. I lean forward in my chair. I've been on this street. I've ridden down it on my blue Sears bicycle with the sheep-skin seat, the summer wind blowing in my face. The car pulls up to a house. The mother gets out and climbs the porch steps. A woman comes to the door. Through the screen door I can see the gingerbread along the arch that leads to the dining room. They are in the kitchen talking. Everything is exactly the same. The kitchen table under the window, the big white enamel stove, the single cabinet by the sink. A man steps from another room, my bedroom. He has a towel around his shoulders. He is coming from the only bathroom in the house. My bedroom door has a small oval-shaped knob that is high up on the door. I can remember reaching for it. I strain forward as though I can see more this way. I can make out the side door to the porch where I made mud cookies for my dog. I know just beyond this are the steps that lead to the backyard where I buried the dead bird I found, the apple tree with the swing and my grandfather's garden. In some subtle way I am changed. I can feel the sun on my skin, see my dog's face, and hear the bird singing. In a world where life is sometimes mundane, repetitive, and often cruel, I am filled with wonder."

National Story Project, May, 2000

Eric Brotman of Nevada City, California describes his grandmother as an iron-willed woman, the feared matriarch of the family. Back in the 1950s, when Mr. Brotman was five, she invited some friends and relatives to her Bronx apartment for a party. "Among the guests," he writes, "was a neighborhood bigshot who was doing well in business. His wife was proud of their social status and let everyone at the party know it. They had a little girl about my age who was spoiled and very much used to getting her way. Grandmother spent a lot of time with the bigshot and his family. She considered them the most important members of her social circle and worked hard at currying their favor. At one point during the party, I made my way to the bathroom and closed the door behind me. A minute or two later, the little girl opened the door and grandly walked in. I was still sitting down. I hollered at her: 'Don't you know that little girls aren't supposed to come into the bathroom when a little boy is still using it?' The surprise of my being there, along with the indignation I had heaped upon her, stunned the little girl. Then she started to cry. She quickly closed the door, ran to the kitchen, and tearfully complained to her parents and my grandmother. Most of the guests had overheard my loud remark and were greatly amused by it. But not my grandmother. She was waiting for me when I left the bathroom -- and then I received the longest, sharpest tongue-lashing of my young life. Grandmother yelled that I was impolite and rude and that I had insulted that nice little girl. The guests watched and winced in absolute silence. So forceful was my grandmother's personality that no one dared stand up for me. After she finished her harrangue and I was dismissed, the party continued, but the atmosphere was much more subdued. Twenty minutes later, all that changed. Grandmother walked by the bathroom and noticed a torrent of water streaming out from under the door. She shrieked twice - - first in astonishment, then in rage. She flung open the bathroom door and saw that the sink and tub drains were plugged up -- with the faucets going full blast. Everyone knew who the culprit was. The guests quickly formed a protective wall around me, but grandmother was so furious that she almost got to me anyway -- flailing her arms as if trying to swim over the crowd. Eventually, my grandfather took my hand and sat me down on his lap in a chair by the window. He was a kind and gentle man, full of wisdom and patience. Rarely did he raise his voice to anyone, and never did he argue with his wife or defy her wishes. He looked at me with much curiosity -- but no anger whatsoever. 'Tell me,' he asked, 'Why did you do it?' 'Well, she yelled at me for nothing,' I said. 'Now she's got something to yell about.' Grandfather didn't speak right away. He just sat there, looking at me and smiling. 'Eric,' he said at last. 'You are my revenge.'"

The National Story Project can be heard the first Saturday of every month on NPR's Weekend All Things Considered.