Fall Fashion: The latest in sounds and stories

WOC Stories producers Geraldine Ah-Sue (l) and Cristina Kim (r)

WOC Stories producers Geraldine Ah-Sue (L) and Cristina Kim (R)

Late summer must have been a busy time for audio producers because there is an amazing fall harvest of sounds and stories, so many that we wanted to spotlight a few this week.

First up is WOC (Women of Color) Stories. Geraldine Ah-Sue and Cristina Kim started a podcast celebrating women of color as makers and storytellers of their own lives. In the first episode, Kim explores fashion as a front line for self-love and activism with Tania and Tara. They talk about the Big Fat Flea NYC, an all genders fashion rummage that sells sizes Large and up!  Ah-Sue introduces listeners to Lesley, a former Aviation Mechanic who talks about coming out in high school, and her experiences in the military under the recently repealed DADT policy.


tumblr_static_18gmiq233ae8cck4kgg44ck0gRecollective producer, Carl Scott  (AKA 3hreePeaceWing) has been working with designer, deejay Niki Nel on a series of “digital mixtapes” as part of his Sonic Drifter project label.  While working on a top-secret, and oft-delayed, audio performance piece, the two producers have been whetting our appetites with some wonderful summer soundtracks.  Now they are taking us into autumn with the double release of “Gotta Find a Way” and “Shabba.”  Listen up!


Rookies_MarqueeImage_SH_long_imageFinally, we have three stories from our friends at Radio Rookies. Teenaged producers Jairo Gomez, Cece Rodriguez and Eddie Munoz shared their stories on WNYC in September.  Check out Gomez’s 10-minute documentary about living below the federal poverty line.








2007 METRO Project | ImageDigitizationSpecifications v1.0 | Epson Perfection V750 Pro

2007 METRO Project | ImageDigitizationSpecifications v1.0 | Epson Perfection V750 Pro

I cannot seem to stay away from the American Museum of Natural History!  And why should I stay away when there are great new shows and exhibits like Dark Universe, Mysteries of the Unseen World and The Power of Poison. Another great reason to return to the AMNH is the upcoming museum lecture; Slide Slam!

On April 28 the Library Special Collections at the American Museum of Natural History is proud to launch its wide-ranging new online database of digital images from the Library’s collections, featuring many images never before seen outside the Library.  Jennifer Cwiok, Digital Projects Manager at AMNH posted a sneak preview of the database in the January edition of The Recollective Blog.

Come celebrate this milestone as Library Director Tom Baione moderates a lively discussion with renowned New York-based artists Alexis Rockman and Mark Dion about how these images have been influential to their careers. The discussion will be illustrated with slides of the artists’ popular work, juxtaposed with the Museum images that inspired their creativity and artistic experience.
art_003_b1_27As a memento, each guest will receive a packet of historic 35mm lecture slides from the Library’s collection. In the pre-Internet era, these slides were provided to educators and researchers presentations and reference.

Tickets for the event are $15 for adults, $13 for seniors and $10 for students.  Learn more about the lecture and purchase your tickets go to http://www.amnh.org/learn-teach/adults/museum-lectures/slide-slam.


All about us

When writer and oral historian Nicki Pombier Berger learned that her son Jonah was born with Down syndrome it opened up a whole new world for her.  She soon realized that before Jonah she had never met anyone with Down syndrome or even had a meaningful encounter with anyone with an intellectual disability.

At the time, she was in graduate school at Columbia, and decided to use her education to navigate this new world.  In September 2012 Nicki began interviewing adults with Down syndrome who had successfully advocated for themselves and on behalf of others.  As the number of interviews grew she named the project Nothing About Us Without Us and  began sharing the interviews on Cowbird, an online storytelling platform that allows people to post stories using text, photos, and sound.

Screen shot from Cowbird.com

Screen shot from Cowbird.com

The Recollective:  What inspired you to document these stories?

Nicki:  My decision to focus on the stories of self-advocates reflected both my own driving curiosity about what it means to live with Down syndrome, and my sense from a few pivotal conversations that voices of people with Down syndrome weren’t necessarily being heard, even at times by those who are advocating for them. While I began with a set of research questions related more specifically to how self-advocates viewed their own roles in the advocacy landscape, my project evolved as I developed relationships with my interviewees and better understood some of their desires to speak and be heard for who they are: in the words of interviewee David Egan, to be seen as “one of us, not one among us.”

In creating an editorial product as the centerpiece of my thesis, I wanted to connect the self-advocates with an audience who might not encounter anyone with Down syndrome otherwise. In my interview and editorial process, I worked to leverage the tools and ethics of oral history in the service of self-representation for my interviewees, working to show their agency in their own lives and the lives of others. I confronted, challenged and expanded my own limited views, and in making my thesis public, I hoped to help others do the same.

The Recollective:  What inspired the name of this project?

Nicki:  I first heard the phrase “Nothing About Us Without Us” from one of my interviewees, John Anton, a self-advocate from Massachusetts. In our interview, John told me about his efforts over the years to ensure that he has a say in decisions about his own life – where he lives, what kinds of work he does, what goals he wants to pursue, and so on. “Nothing About Us Without Us,” a slogan of the disability rights movement, means that no such decisions – at the policy or individual level – should be made without the full participation of the people they impact. I adopted this slogan as the title for my thesis in consultation with another interviewee, David Egan, whose perspectives on media representation of people with intellectual disabilities were influential in my decision to take an editorial approach with my thesis, rather than simply writing an academic paper.

The Recollective:  How did you find your interview subjects?

Nicki:  Once I had a focus – self-advocates with Down syndrome – my outreach process
pretty much followed my relationships and my geography. When I first decided to do my oral history thesis on Down syndrome, I met with Jon Colman, President of the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS), who helped orient me to the landscape of advocacy and offered his support as my ideas for using oral history to explore Down syndrome evolved. When I decided to focus on self-advocates,

Jon and his colleagues, Sara Hart Weir and Vanessa Quick, connected me with self-advocates in their network who lived in driving range for me: Virginia, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and New York. I interviewed Claire Bible in Madison, Wisconsin, my hometown, whom I met through another NDSS contact, Sterling Lynk, Executive Director of the Madison Area Down Syndrome Society (MADSS).

There is no question that a focus on self-advocates – individuals who speak up and speak out for themselves and others – leaves out many individuals with Down syndrome.  A question I continue to explore is how to support autobiographical storytelling with individuals for whom an oral narration may not be the best way to “tell” their story.  Noelle McCormack, an oral historian in the UK, is doing work I admire on that front, and the anthology edited by Dorothy Atkinson and Fiona Williams, Know Me As I Am, is so rich, thorough, and thoughtfully compiled, it’s a real standard-bearer.

Nicki Pombier-Berger with her son Jonah and advocate David Egan

Nicki Pombier Berger with her son Jonah and advocate David Egan

The Recollective:  The stories really vary in medium, style and subject matter.  What informed those choices and what is the common thread you hope emerges from all the stories now that they are collected?

Nicki:  I’m glad you’re asking this question – it means I succeeded! As I moved from interview collection into the editorial process, I knew I wanted to create a final product that would present stories reflective of the diversity and individuality of the self-advocates I interviewed. I also wanted to reach an audience who might not otherwise encounter individuals with Down syndrome.

Since I wanted to reach a general public, Cowbird was a fantastic platform, with its built-in broad ranging audience, its culture of curiosity and empathy, and its tools for connecting stories to one another on themes. But rather than starting with a sense of particular themes or topics I wanted to illustrate and looking for excerpts to do so, I went back to my interviews and listened for what I thought came through as most important to the interviewee, editing excerpts accordingly. I tried to edit in such a way that showed the interviewee as expert authors of their own experiences, endeavoring to communicate a concept or perspective or memory to me. Leaving myself as an interviewer in some of these excerpts is one way I did so.

But I wanted to make sure that Nothing About Us Without Us was more than just a nod to the disability rights movement – I wanted it to infuse the project. While I began editing by interpreting what I thought was important to each interviewee, I built in a review process that gave them a say in what I shared, and how. At the time of my interviews, I wasn’t yet sure what that final product would be, and while interviewees signed release forms giving me permission to use their interviews in my thesis, once I decided that the centerpiece would be online, I wanted interviewees to decide whether or not they wanted their stories “out there” in this way. I went through a second and more specific review and release
process, which informed my editorial options and choices. For instance, Sara Wolff restricted my use of her interview audio, but gave me permission to use transcripts, which is why her stories appear as text. She and other interviewees provided editorial input before I posted their stories to the collection, adding, deleting, combining or suggesting stories, and the resulting collection does, I believe, reflect a collaborative effort between myself and my interviewees.

The Recollective:  Will the project continue?

Nicki:  Yes.  David Egan, took a particular interest in the project, reaching out to me after our initial interview to ask if he could get more involved. Another great thing about Cowbird as a platform is that others can add their own stories to shared projects. David and I have conducted two workshops to introduce the project to others, and encourage them to add their own stories. We are also hoping to interview other individuals with Down syndrome together.

The Recollective:  What will become of the stories now that they have been collected?

Nicki:  I am currently processing the full interview materials for submission to the Regional Oral History Office (ROHO) at the University of California, Berkeley, for inclusion in the Disability Rights and Independent Living Movement collection. There the interviews will be preserved and available in full – audio and transcripts – to scholars, advocates, and, who knows, maybe another new parent looking to broaden their own view or understanding of what’s possible for (and from) people with Down syndrome.

To learn more about this project and find out how you or someone you know can participate go to http://cowbird.com/project/nothing-about-us-without-us/introduction/

When real Americans come to New York

On March 13th THE REAL AMERICANS opened Off-Broadway at Culture Project for a five-week run.  I’m sharing this link to an interview I did with writer/ actor Dan Hoyle for Turnstyle News back in 2012 when he was performing the show in the Bay Area.

Check it out and go get your tickets! 

Screen shot from Turnstyle News

Screen shot from Turnstyle News

New age

Screen shot from Teenagefilm.com

Screen shot from Teenagefilm.com

A classic metaphor for youth is Spring.  So now that Spring is (finally) here I’ll be posting and re-posting about some storytelling and documentary projects by and about young people.

Last month, when I was aching for an early thaw, I interviewed producer and teen mentor Olivia Cueva about the Berkeley-based Screenagers film festival.  This week I’m sharing the trailer for Teenage.

To find out when and where Teenage is playing go to Teenagefilm.com and while your on the site check out the Youth Culture Blog, too!


As the snow and ice from Printthe second big snowstorm of the season slowly melts (and a third storm is rumored to be on the way) the debate on climate change has been rekindled once again.  Whether you agree that global warming is a threat to our planet or not, I think you’ll enjoy Winters Past.

This new audio project  is brought to you by the husband/wife team of Josie Holtzman, a sound artist and former producer on WNPR’s Where We Live, and Isaac Kestenbaum, a writer and audio producer who works at StoryCorps.  Released almost episodically these “soundwalks” are best heard in specific places while walking.  For folks who don’t have access to or interest in venturing out into the icy environs described in the “The River” or “Everywhere,” you can still enjoy these ambient narratives that take you back-and-forth between the past, the present and the future.

The project is supported by Invoking the Pause, an environmental grants program  advancing public awareness about climate change, but again there is something here for even the staunchest climate change denier.  Listening to “The River” I could feel the anticipation and excitement of charging down the Hudson in an ice yacht.  I smiled as I listened to “Everywhere” and imagined rushing naked from a makeshift sauna out onto an icy pond.  Both stories explore the rapidly changing environment but they also hone in on small moments of wonder and anticipation while documenting kinships and traditions that may only blossom in the cold.


John Sperr, a member of the Hudson River Ice Yacht club, and one of the voices featured in this walk. Photo courtesy John Fasulo

You can see more photos, read more shared reminiscences, and get updates about Winters Past on Facebook and Twitter.  Holtzman and Kestenbaum’s next story, “The Lake” is coming soon.

All natural


Roy Chapman Andrews and George Olsen at nest of “the even dozen dinosaur eggs”, Third Asiatic Expedition, Mongolia, 1925 photographed by James B. Shackelford

The American Museum of Natural History is famous for its dinosaur fossils, meteorites, planetarium, and dioramas, but many treasures hide beyond the exhibition halls. Founded the same year as the Museum, the Research Library at the American Museum of Natural History has become one of the largest natural history libraries in the world, with rare volumes reaching as far back as the 15th century. The AMNH Research Library is steward to over one million black-and-white prints and negatives, color transparencies and slides. The images document scientific work worldwide in the fields of anthropology, archaeology, astronomy, geology, paleontology, and zoology. The collection also documents the history of the Museum: specimens, cultural and art objects, Museum staff and scientists at work, and permanent, as well as, temporary exhibitions.

The Library’s Director Tom Baione speaking about the book “Natural Histories: Extraordinary Rare Book Selections from the American Museum of Natural History.”


Rope Cypress, standing in canoe shooting bow and arrow, clouds above, The Everglades, Florida, 1910 photographed by Julian A. Dimock

Recently, the AMNH Research Library launched the beta version of its Digital Special Collections website  giving the world a glimpse into its vast archive. There are currently 6580 images online and that number is expected to double before 2015. Highlights include: the Lantern Slide Collection, originally used to illustrate lectures given to the public at the Museum and the Julian Dimock Collection with its arresting images of Seminole Indian Tribes and those who endured slavery in the turn-of-the-century American South.  Online exhibits allow librarians and scholars to present images according to context or provenance to encourage new scholarship. The featured online exhibit “Natural Histories” is a curated sampling of the images found in the book, “Natural Histories: Extraordinary Rare Book Selections from the American Museum of Natural History,” with highlights from the forty essays it contains on a variety of scientific topics.

photo-2Guest blogger, Jennifer Cwiok is the Digital Projects Manager at the American Museum of Natural History. She is a librarian by trade with an affinity for digitization workflows and applications architecture. She makes her home with her wife, daughter and 2 cats in Brooklyn, where she plays drums in a rock band and visits the park regularly.