Last week I traveled to the Bay Area to conduct my first interviews. I have been preparing for the start of this project for several months now. It was December that I began developing the project and since then I have been working on setting the criteria for narrators (interviewees), writing up the description, thinking about what I really want to accomplish and working the interview guide, re-working the interview guide, tearing up the interview guide and starting over. Now I realize that I placed all of my anxiety about this project into that interview guide.
When I arrived to interview Sara Paloma and Christa Assad I was excited to begin, relieved really - and a bit nervous. There was the little gremlin in my head that was asking “What the hell are you doing? And who do you think you are - Studs Terkel?”
For those of you who don’t know, Studs Terkel was a radio host and an oral historian who published many well-known books of his oral history interviews. His radio show “The Studs Terkel Program” was on the air in Chicago between 1952 through 1997. He received a Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction for The Good War, an oral history of World War II. Through the course of his career he recorded over 9,000 hours of interviews with over 5,000 people. As I have begun looking at his career what I find most striking is he would talk to anyone. Anyone. In his book Working which presents interviews of people discussing their various careers, he includes interviews with everyone from a 10 year old newspaper boy to Rip Torn. On his radio show he was just as curious and attentive with Sybil Leek, a self-proclaimed witch who published several books on the occult, as he was with Martin Luther King. And as I make my way through his radio archive I find that he was a gracious and graceful interviewer who was compassionate and genuinely interested in what everyone had to say.
No, I’m not Studs Terkel, but if I become even a fraction of interviewer he was, I’ll be happy and call this project a success.