RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
If you've listened to NPR much over the past decade, you've heard StoryCorps conversations; those intimate interviews between two people that make you as a listener feel like you've been invited in to witness something special transpire. Dave Isay is the man behind StoryCorps. And he and his team have collected over 50,000 interviews over the years. The next iteration of the storytelling project is a book. It's called "Ties That Bind: Stories of Love and Gratitude from the First Ten Years of StoryCorps."
David Isay told us about the story that started it all. While living in New York, he met a couple; both recovering heroin addicts with AIDS. Before they died, they wanted to start a museum to addiction, but they didn't have any funding. Isay pitched their story to local TV news stations but none were interested. So he contacted a local radio station.
DAVID ISAY: And the news director said it sounds like a great story but we don't have anyone to do it. Why don't you do it yourself? So I took a tape recorder and when I pushed play and record on that tape recorder and these folks started talking, I knew that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. And it aired on WBAI, the local station here in New York.
And someone from actually WEEKEND ALL THINGS CONSIDERED was driving through New York that night and happened to hear the news broadcast on this local station. And 24 hours later, I was out of medical school and on this journey.
MARTIN: The book highlights some of the most powerful interviews, which is saying something because they are by definition emotionally compelling stories that people share. But I'd love to talk about one in particular. Let's hear a bit of Guinevere Mann. She lives with short-term memory loss as the result of complications from a surgery. And here she is speaking with her boyfriend, Yasir Salem, about the idea of confabulations - this is when people create a memory to fill in a gap in their psyche.
YASIR SALEM: You used to think that your co-worker, Barbara, was your mom...
GUINEVERE MANN: I'm sorry.
SALEM: ...even though she's a completely different race than you.
MANN: That's funny, yeah.
SALEM: There was one point where you were confused, because you thought we had broken up. And I would ask you, like, why do you think you're staying at my place? She was like: Well, we're just cool like that.
MANN: Yeah, sorry about that.
SALEM: That's all right.
MANN: And after all you'd been doing for me.
SALEM: Thankfully you got over that.
MARTIN: And it's nice there some levity in that conversation, too.
ISAY: In a lot of these, yeah. Actually, Guinevere still suffers from extreme short-term memory loss. You know, in the story, they go on to talk about when she ran the marathon for the first time with Yasir. And she asked him before the marathon to say that they'd only been running for 15 minutes.
ISAY: So she did that all the way through the marathon.
ISAY: But one of the, you know, one of the, you know, uses - this is an example of kind of a surprises of StoryCorps. So it turns out that after they went to StoryCorps, Guinevere, she said that she's listened to the interview 10,000 times. Yasir told me that she listens to it multiple times a day because getting the chance to listen to her story, as she recorded it with Yasir, helps ground and remind her about, you know, who she is and about her life.
MARTIN: You have heard so many of these stories, so many conversations between people deeply connected in some way. I wonder if you have seen the nature of these conversations changed over the last decade. Are there topics that people discuss more? Are there conversational threads that they pull on more readily?
ISAY: The answer is definitely no. You know, the accents change and the occupation change depending on where you're recording these things. But people talk about the same things. They talk about love. They talk about death. They talk about family. They talk about the things that matter. In some ways, I think that with the book and with the, you know, audio segments, it's kind of like a shake on the shoulder every week you saying, you know, reminding you this is what's important, this is what's important.
MARTIN: Dave Isay is the creator of StoryCorps. The book is called "Ties that Bind: Stories of Love and Gratitude from the First Ten Years of StoryCorps."
David, thanks so much for talking with us.
ISAY: Rachel, have a great holiday.
MARTIN: Happy holidays. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.