Inspired by author/journalist Dave Eggers (he wrote, among other things, the memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius), I asked my Journalism students to interview a person who has "no voice" -- meaning someone who is not likely to be asked to tell his or her story. I didn't want my students to interview the kind of people who usually get interviewed: important politicians, media stars, or the president of the Marianopolis Student Council!
So I spent all day yesterday reading those interviews, several of which were so good I want to write about them in today's blog entry. Amongst the people my students interviewed: a crossing guard; a man who was a lawyer in China and now does factory work here in Montreal; several housekeepers; a young man who did time in a juvenile detention facility; a teenage mom; and a young nun who decided to give up life in a religious community.
Though I told students they could not interview family members (interviewing relatives can be especially challenging since they often want to protect us and will not tell us everything we need to know), I made one exception my student Amanda told me she wanted to interview her grandfather, a Holocaust survivor.
I have to admit that I cried a little when I read Amanda's interview. Before he was sent to a Nazi work camp, Amanda's grandfather lived in a Jewish ghetto in Poland. There, he met the young woman he would eventually marry. He told Amanda what it felt like when he first got to know his future wife: "I woke up in the morning and saw such a beautiful little girl, and ... you see? A little joy to have something among the sorrow. A nice girl. She went to work and I went to work, and at night, we would talk to each other." Thanks to Amanda, I feel like I know her grandfather -- and her grandmother, too.
This is what writing can do -- it can bring us close to people.
Another one of my students, Samantha, interviewed Laurie, a local crossing guard. What makes Laurie special is her maternal relationship with the kids she watches over before and after school. Samantha's interview ended with a quote from Laurie: "Get a good mark on this paper and I'll take you for lunch!" Samantha concludes, "I guess I too had been adopted by Laurie." Nice, no?
So today I want to say thanks to my students for doing such a great job on your interviews. Thanks to all of you, I've "met" nearly 40 new people and you've given voice to individuals who don't usually get to share their stories. A noble deed, if you ask me!