StoryCorps Airstream in Tucson, AZ

StoryCorps Airstream

For more than a decade the StoryCorps project has been providing people from diverse backgrounds the opportunity to record, share and preserve their stories. “We believe every story matters,” states the StoryCorps website. “We do this to remind one another of our shared humanity, to strengthen and build the connections between people, and to teach the value of listening. We are creating an invaluable archive for future generations.”

In 2005 StoryCorps took this mission on the road in a factory-fresh Airstream trailer converted into a traveling recording studio. The new model currently on the cross-country tour is a 2007 26-foot Airstream International; one of their fleet of three. To learn more, Outside Interests caught up with Public Information Manager Emily Janssen—at the end of her 18-month tour of duty with the project—when StoryCorps rolled through Tucson.

Emily Janssen of StoryCorps
Emily Janssen, Public Information Manager of StoryCorps. Photo by Jennifer Mead

Where have the StoryCorps Airstreams been—and where will they go?

“We’re visiting ten cities per year for about five weeks at at time,” said Janssen. “Our Airstreams have traveled to every one of the 48 contiguous states since 2005, visiting over 200 cities and towns along the way. Collectively, our Airstreams have traveled over 80,000 miles.

What’s inside? What kind of experience awaits the storyteller?

When you step into our Airstream, you first walk through our mobile ‘office.’ Then, you step through two soundproof doors into our mobile recording studio where participants sit across a table from a friend or loved one to record a 40 minute conversation about their lives and what matters to them. A StoryCorps staff person, called a facilitator, is present during the interview to walk them through the recording process, help them share their memories, and begin archiving. Afterwards, participants receive a copy of their recording, and then can decide if they would like to share it with our archive at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, where we have a collection of almost 65,000 recordings.

StoryCorps Airstream Soundproof Booth
Photo by Jennifer Mead

What features does it have?

We designed our Airstream to function as a quiet, comfortable, welcoming recording space. That portion of our trailer has no windows, and designed to be a space that feels comfortable and cozy. We are most proud of our electronic wheelchair lift. As far as we know, we are the only Airstreams equipped with this equipment—the same as you will find on public transportation. This allows for folks to comfortably access our trailer without using the stairs. We installed these in our Airstreams in 2014, and make frequent use of them.

StoryCorps Airstream Wheelchair Lift
StoryCorps Airstream Wheelchair Lift. Photo by Jennifer Mead

What story moved you most?

This is always a difficult question to answer. In the past year and a half I have heard stories of love, stories of loss, stories of great accomplishments and of tiny victories, stories that reveal parts of our community histories that are painful, and stories that reveal what we can be proud of. Even after listening to hundreds of these conversations, I continue to be moved by the profound effect that it has on all of us to sit down and truly listen to someone we care about, and to speak about what matters to us and truly be heard.

What kind of story makes for the best recording?

There is no one type of story that is “the best”, but if you’re looking to record with someone you love, there are some great tips for having a great conversation.  My suggestions are to be genuine, be curious, and listen with love!

Where can Outside Interest readers add their stories to the archives?

“Our Airstream will continue to travel the country, and we would love for folks to keep an eye out for when we are in their town,” said Janssen. Permanent recording booths are also stationed in Chicago, Atlanta, and San Francisco. “If you’re not near one of those locations or near our ever-moving Airstream, we encourage folks to use our new StoryCorps app to record with their loved ones anywhere around the world.”

StoryCorps Airstream
Photo by Jennifer Mead

Find StoryCorps on Facebook, or check out the tour schedule and book an interview online. Tools to help you prepare are on the website as well.