'Listening' a page-turner packed with historic revelations

Others' stories are beyond heartbreaking. Douglas Paul Desilvey, 59, of Ocean Springs, Miss., tells of losing his entire family before his eyes in a house flooded by Hurricane Katrina. He lost his wife, daughter and his wife's parents.

And then there's Joseph Dittmar, who describes his harrowing and gruesome journey down from the 105th floor of Two World Trade Center on Sept. 11.

What emerges is a portrait of the American character, through circumstances from the mundane (a rural postmistress feeds baby chicks sent through the mail to keep them alive during a blizzard) to the incredible (a doctor on call in New Orleans' Charity Hospital during Hurricane Katrina holds down the fort in a powerless hospital for five days awaiting the National Guard or FEMA. It is people from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries who finally arrive to evacuate patients by boat).

Though StoryCorps asks for $10 as a suggested donation for a session, it costs more than $250 to record each interview. (For more information, go to storycorps.net.)

This business model gave new meaning to the term non-profit, Isay writes, but the goal was to make StoryCorps accessible to everyone, making up the difference with donations and grants. Funding was touch-and-go at first, he writes, but StoryCorps now has support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, corporate sponsor AT&T, the Open Society Institute and the Ford Foundation.

With the stories in Listening Is an Act of Love, StoryCorps is doing what oral historian Studs Terkel called "celebrating the lives of the uncelebrated."

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