Friday, October 14, 2011

Reading and Reflections on 9/11

I was lucky that on September 11, 2001, I did not personally know anyone who was aboard a plane that crashed, inside the Pentagon or one of the World Trade Center towers in New York. So though the story of where I was and what I was doing when I heard the terrible news is personally important to me and the people I was with that day, but probably not to many others. Many people are like I am, and though we can all be thankful, we were still all affected nonetheless.

The tenth anniversary of that awful day that changed the world has come and gone and I've been thinking a lot about what that anniversary has meant, both to me and those directly impacted, and I've done some reading, of course, to aid me in that.

On September 11, 2011, I spent a couple pf continuous hours alone in my car and tuned in to my local NPR station to see how they were marking the day. I wasn't disappointed. In the time after 9/11/01, NPR dedicated a voice mail line to those who felt compelled to call and leave a message describing their reactions to and reflections upon that day. They were deeply personal even though many of these messages were no longer than a voice mail any of us might leave for someone or receive. I was moved and fascinated by how those with direct connections to these disasters could sum up their relationship to that day and how they were moving forward in such a concise yet eloquent way.

After listening to those voice mails being played back I soon read a book I'd been intending to read for quite some time: Listening Is an Act of Love: A Celebration of American Life from the StoryCorps Project, edited and introduced by Dave Isay. StoryCorps is an NPR effort where regular Americans can record their life's recollections, usually by answering questions from a friend or family member. At the end of the interview, they receive a CD recording of it and the other CD is sent to the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. There are permanent or semi-permanent StoryCorp booths in New York City, Atlanta and San Francisco. A traveling recording studio in an Airstream trailer is currently taking reservations for stops in Denver and Los Angeles.

In Listening Is an Act of Love: A Celebration of American Life from the StoryCorps Project, Isay has compiled edited transcriptions of stories recorded in these booths. Some stories are funny and some are sad, but all are incredibly touching. The stories are grouped in the book according to theme, but the last section of the book, "Fire and Water," is comprised of recordings specifically on the topic of September 11, 2001, and they were captured in a permanent recording booth established at the World Trade Center site in 2005. These recordings are some of what has been placed at the Memorial Museum that has recently opened.

Also part of this section are stories from survivors of Hurricane Katrina. If the stories in this book don't draw all kinds of emotions out of you, you just simply aren't human. It is those personal stories from everyday people that has impacted me the most it turns out. I think those are the most important voices to be heard.


Another set of important voices I've just heard are in The Whole Fiasco, the book written by writing students at Atlanta's KIPP Strive Academy partnered with The Wren's Nest and numerous writing volunteers. I thoroughly enjoyed my second year working with a student to properly capture the voice of a family member and do it justice by writing it down. A few students from the program got the opportunity to record their family interviews through StoryCorps and have these interviews archived. This collection is full of stories from very talented fifth and sixth graders, and I'm convinced that these students are on their way to accomplishing great things.


A friend and fellow Atlanta-area freelancer, Photographer David Batley just had a show of his work to commemorate the tenth anniversary of September 11. Batley happened to be visiting the World Trade Center to photograph it just one week before that day in 2001. He told me he spent 10 years trying to decide what to do with those photos. Then, 10 years later he revisited the spot and shot photos again. He compiled the two series in an exhibit called "Towering Views: Images Remembering the World Trade Center Ten Years After 9/11." It's at the Art Station at Big Shanty in Kennesaw through October 28 before it moves elsewhere. To find out more about Batley and his work, visit

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