Tuesday, February 6, 2007

In the first person

Immediately when I thought of oral history, I recalled my days at various summer camps. Gathered around a camp fire or hiking up a mountain, people began to tell stories. As a kid, I'd try to as close as possible to the speaker so I could hear all of the details, catch the inflexion and the buildup. Ghost stories I think as a form work better in the oral tradition. A good speaker can do more for atmosphere than the most descriptive of print. But that's just my opinion.

Over this past summer, I worked as a camp counselor to 11-12 year olds. I got really tired of doing riddles up on the long hikes, so I decided to start telling them stories. A lot of it I drew from what I had written down in high school when I was actively working on a piece of fiction, but a great deal of the story was improved. I encouraged the kids to give me feedback and I would ask them what happened next in the story. I did this every week and so by the end of the summer I had a completely different story than what I had in the beginning, but it was shaped by not only my revisions but on the reactions and suggestions of the kids. It's probably one of the best things I've ever written, but it's still all in my mind.

So for Oral History sites, I found inthefirstperson.com, a website dedicated to keeping transcripts of stories, interviews, etc. A lot of it is government interviews and pretty dry, but it's kind of cool to think that a senator's comments on such and such a bill will never be forgotten and have a modern way of being accessed. Also, http://www.newhavenoralhistoryproject.org/ has both auditory clips and transcripts. It's all about New Haven, Connecticut. The clip they have on the main page is pretty amazing. The sad description is oddly comforting- the speaker's voice is beautiful.

For my oral project, I tried to think hard about what the advantages of having a story being told orally would be. I've also wished that my writing had a soundtrack, and I tried to play with the idea of music as well. Drawing on my friends experiences in the New Jersey music scene, I tried to give a glimpse of a small musical renaissance in the suburbs. If iMovie cooperates, hopefully I'll get some still images in there as well. Whether or not this project is succesful in it's first incarnation or not, I hope to return to this topic later on.

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