Telling Stories, Publishing Lives
Annie Reading '13 is spending her summer listening and recording other people's life stories at her Center for Peace and Global Citizenship-sponsored internship at Voice of Witness, a nonprofit division of McSweeney's Books in San Francisco. It is an organization that seeks to raise awareness about ongoing human rights crises by publishing the oral histories of the people experiencing them.
â€œIt gives marginalized people the space to be both participants in their own self-definition, and primary actors in raising awareness for the issues and crises that trouble their communities,” says Reading.
Some of Voice of Witness' recent titles include Patriot Acts, which features the stories of Muslim-Americans and how they have been discriminated against since the 9/11 attacks, and Inside this Place, Not of It, which chronicles the widespread abuse in women's prisons that takes place across the nation. Its upcoming book Throwing Stones at the Moon, which details the narratives of those displaced by violence in Columbia, has been one of Reading's primary projects this summer. It is part of a series that she says covers“a whole range of fascinating and surprising issues occurring within the U.S. and internationally, issues that don't get enough attention in mainstream media formats.”
Reading discovered Voice of Witness through Assistant Professor of Philosophy Jill Stauffer, who is also the director of the Peace, Justice and Human Rights concentration. The English major, who is also working towards a concentration in African and Africana Studies, was immediately interested in the organization because it brought together her interest in nonprofits with her interest in studying literature and social justice issues.“The written has real, tangible abilities to creates social change,” she says.“[It is the] first step in helping us imagine a world different from the one that exists now.”
Reading, who has transcribed interviews and proofread book copy at Voice of Witness, especially enjoyed organizing and participating in a teachers' workshop that took place in late July. The week-long workshop centered on incorporating oral histories, like those Voice of Witness publishes, into classroom discussions and helping the teachers create their own oral histories. Reading even got the chance to transcribe one of the teacher's own stories.“It was amazing interviewing another person,” she says,“and seeing how difficult and moving it can be to try to condense their life into a cohesive, short narrative.”
â€”Jack Hasler â€˜15