As a preface to the official kick-off date of StoryCorps Alaska, our team in New York set out to get the ball rolling a little early. Elise Pepple, the Coordinator of Outreach and Public Programs at the Public Library in Gustavus, Alaska, signed on-board to help us gather some initial interviews. Using StoryCorps recording equipment, designed for interviews much like those that take place in our booths, Elise created her very own StoryCorps “booth” to record the stories of Gustavus residents.
Gustavus is a city of 429 people set on the shore of Icy Strait, 36 air miles from Juneau, Alaska’s capital city. Gustavus is a unique community of individuals with a wide array of lifestyle choices and accommodations, from one room cabins with no plumbing to five star homes. With geologic and geographic changes to Gustavus over the years have also come social and demographic changes. The gateway community to Glacier Bay National Park, Gustavus is unique in its landscape and in its people.
In the planning stages of Elise’s endeavor, she showed a picture of the StoryCorps MobileBooth to a friend who commented that the Gustavus Public Library didn’t feel quite as “hip,” so they set out to find and make their own Gustavus StoryCorps booth. “If Gustavus is rich in something, it seems we are rich in ex-lodge buses,” Pepple remarks. She quickly came across a 21-year-old resident named Elm, who had recently bought a bus to live in. Pepple explains, “He said we could borrow the bus if we could move out the 20,000 pounds of scrap metal that were living inside and get it started. A couple of hours later, the bus was sitting in front of the library.”
Elise reported that, for the most part, Gustavus locals had not heard of StoryCorps. The public radio station there airs StoryCorps clips at 4 AM! Elise explains, “It seemed like either the whole town might show up, or no one at all.” But by the end of StoryCorps’ stay in Gustavus, some 30 interviews were recordedÃ³friends, couples, and family members shared the stories that shape their lives.
Elise describes her experience best, “Whether tacitly or explicitly understood, many of the stories told during StoryCorps Alaska in Gustavus oriented around the connections people here have to this place. While at times, I explicitly stated, Ã«you do not need to make this about Gustavus,’ even in my own interview, I found myself speaking of the complex and beautiful pull the community of Gustavus has had on my life.”
She continues, “As the person recording these stories, I’m pretty sure I lucked out the most. I’d crouch behind the wood stove, mouth agape, as people I knew expressed what is both beautiful and harsh in life. Listening confirmed for me the mission of this project: everyone has a storyÃ³moments that have been surprising, hysterical, and poignant in their lives. All you have to do is ask.”
“All told, there was laughter, tears, partial nudity, and the confirmation that people in Gustavus shape remarkable lives of independence and sincerity.”
Visit www.storycorpsalaska.net for more information on StoryCorps Alaska.