RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Today, two shinny aluminum trailers begin the first leg of a cross-country journey. The Airstream campers have been converted into mobile recording studios. They're part of a project called StoryCorps which is capturing an oral history of America.
(Soundbite of music)
Unidentified Man #1: If the world today would be like Coney Island was at that time, it would be a marvelous thing.
Unidentified Child #1: What was my mom like growing up?
Unidentified Man #1: Oh, your mom was just like you when she grew up.
Unidentified Child #1: Was she well-behaved?
Unidentified Man #1: Kind of like you. I used to play my bagpipes and your mother was in the audience. She saw my legs and fell for me. I had my kilt on.
MONTAGNE: The idea behind StoryCorps is simple. Friends, neighbors, family members walk into a soundproof booth and interview each other for 40 minutes.
KATELYN: I'm Katelyn. I'm 10, and right now I'm being interviewed by my mom.
I have a question for you.
Unidentified Woman #1: Yes.
KATELYN: How has being a parent...
MONTAGNE: The conversations are recorded on CD. One copy goes to the storytellers; with permission, another goes to the Library of Congress. Some of the best interviews go to MORNING EDITION.
Unidentified Woman #1: I think it really was because I stopped, like, having all this focus on myself, you know, like, me, me, me. Suddenly there was you.
KATELYN: Do you really truly love me?
Unidentified Woman #1: Oh, my God, with, like, my heart, the next-door neighbor's heart, the people around the corner's heart. With everything I have, I love you.
Unidentified Woman #1: Honestly.
MONTAGNE: You may have already heard a few of the StoryCorps interviews on this program. They were recorded in a booth in New York's Grand Central Terminal. This Friday and every Friday for the next year we hear more stories from New York and interviews from all over as the StoryCorps trailers crisscross the nation.
Mr. DAVID ISAY ("Get A Life 101"): We're 2,200 interviews into the project now just at Grand Central, and I'm just amazed every single day something new happens.
MONTAGNE: That's David Isay. He's the creator of StoryCorps. The idea for the project grew out of a documentary he produced for NPR more than a decade ago. The documentary was called "Get A Life 101."
Mr. ISAY: I gave two kids in Chicago tape recorders and asked them to record a diary of their lives growing up in the projects.
Unidentified Child #2: Who was my father?
Unidentified Woman #2: Your father is a fellow named Toby Flipper(ph). He's seen you when you was about two and I ain't seen him since.
Unidentified Child #2: What do you think happened to him?
Unidentified Woman #2: He's probably dead.
Unidentified Child #2: Thank you.
Unidentified Woman #2: OK.
Mr. ISAY: They took the tape recorders and interviewed family members without me there and I saw the kind of connections that doing these interviews made for these kids.
MONTAGNE: David Isay modeled StoryCorps after an oral history project conducted in the 1930s by the Works Progress Administration, the WPA.
Unidentified Man #2: And I looked over my box of fish while I (unintelligible), look at the different kinds and then I try to find words to rhyme with each kind of fish.
(Singing) Fish man, fish man, five cents a pound. Folks, I sell them all over town. Come on down and...
MONTAGNE: The WPA interviews were conducted by historians. StoryCorps encourages friends and family members to ask the questions. If they get stuck, a facilitator is there to help. The interviews have been wide-ranging: AIDS, civil rights, the Holocaust, family members recently lost.
Unidentified Man #3: So this is the ring that my father gave to my mother and so I thought that I would give it to you so that he could be with us for this also. So, Debra, will you please marry me?
DEBRA: Yeah, of course. I love you.
Unidentified Man #3: So, kids, this is how your mother and I got married, in a booth in Grand Central Station.
MONTAGNE: One StoryCorps interview in New York. The mobile StoryCorps booths will be in Washington, DC, tomorrow and then on to Charlottesville, Virginia. Other stops on the first leg of their journey, Columbus, Ohio, Chicago and Seattle. To find out when a mobile recording studio is coming to your town, visit npr.org. Excerpts from StoryCorps interviews will be heard on MORNING EDITION every Friday for the next year beginning this Friday.
This is NPR News.