Dave Isay to advocate for preserving small moments of humanity

People lose or forget so many memories of laughter and joy with friends and loved ones; StoryCorps is a nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing this. As a former radio producer and the StoryCorps founder, Dave Isay wants to make sure these memories stay preserved.

StoryCorps’ mission is to share humanity’s stories in order to build connections and create a more compassionate world. In 2003, Isay set up a single recording booth in Manhattan’s Grand Central Terminal where people could preserve a piece of history.

“I was always interested in audio and radio as public service and had this kind of crazy idea 18 years ago that became something I never imagined it would become: this massive collection of voices of who we are as everyday people in America,” Isay said. 

StoryCorps grew, and when Isay won the $1 million TED Prize in 2015, that money went to creating a StoryCorps app for people to have conversations worldwide. StoryCorps has also received two Peabody Awards: one in 2007 for a rare Institutional Award and again in 2011 for its 9/11 initiative. 

He will give his lecture, “StoryCorps: A Celebration of Human Thriving,” at 2 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 10 in the Hall of Philosophy to continue Week Seven of the Interfaith Lecture Series “Home: A Place for Human Thriving.”

“I think what I’m going to do is play stories about home and human thriving and connection,” Isay said. “We’ve recorded about 700,000 people (who) have participated in StoryCorps, recording conversations with loved ones over the last 18 years.”

He said he wants the audio recordings to help show how people connect with one another as Americans. Some of StoryCorps’ new work addresses widespread toxic polarization affecting America and other countries.

“StoryCorps, in many ways, collects the wisdom of humanity,” Isay said. “I hope that these stories are just a reminder of the basic goodness of people that we often forget when we’re surrounded by 24-hour news.”

When he was a kid, he recorded his grandparents around the house on a tape recorder, but ended up losing the tape. Now, 40 years later, when he visits his mother’s house, he still searches for it.

“I wanted to make sure nobody made that dumb mistake I did of losing the tape,” Isay said. “Every one of (StoryCorps’) interviews goes to the Library of Congress (to) make sure that people have this opportunity to say the important things to the people who are important to them, and have that for their children and their children’s children.”

In relation to Week Seven’s theme, Isay thinks StoryCorps reflects a similar idea of humanity, home and thriving.

“I think StoryCorps is an effort all about human thriving and helping to find the best in us and reminding us what’s really important in life,” Isay said. “Human thriving is certainly what life is all about.”

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The author Kaitlyn Finchler

Kaitlyn Finchler is a journalism and public relations graduate from Kent State University as of May. This will be her second summer at Chautauqua where she will cover literary arts, serving previously as the Interfaith Lecture Series preview reporter. In her free time, you can find her reading, cooking or flipping between “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Gossip Girl.” She’s most excited to see how many times she can slip the word “plethora” into her stories before Sara makes her stop again.