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Africa and the African Diaspora, LGBT@NYPL

Schomburg Treasures: The StoryCorps Black LGBTQ Archive

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StoryCorps participants
StoryCorps participants

It's easy for the digital world to seem isolating. Standing, sitting, walking, driving, we're surrounded by faces looking down at their cellphones. Real human connection—and people paying attention to where they're going—are rare. But we have a choice: be distracted, or be enriched, enlightened, engaged.

If you're familiar with StoryCorps, odds are it's through NPR, which broadcasts selected pieces every week. (Short segments that turn, inevitably, into my Friday morning cry.) Since 2003, they've recorded over 60,000 interviews, going strong on their mission "to provide people of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve the stories of our lives."

All StoryCorps interviews are archived at the American Folklife Center, and we are pleased to announce that the Black LGBTQ Archive is now available for researchers at the Schomburg Center, in the Manuscripts, Archives, & Rare Books Division. Tamara Thompson, Archivist at StoryCorps, describes how the collection came to be:

We mined the StoryCorps archive and pulled over 200 stories that reflect a multitude of black LGBTQ experiences to add to the Schomburg's In The Life Archive. The StoryCorps interviews complement the existing holdings of the In the Life Archive, and work in conjunction with these materials to continue conversations on race and identity. Some recurring themes in the collection include: love, relationships, activism, coming out, and achieving self-acceptance. As we collect more stories from black LGBTQ participants through our OutLoud and Griot initiatives, we will continue to contribute additional interviews.

MARB Assistant Curator, Steven G. Fullwood, continues:

These amazing interviews are informative and entertaining, and complicate mainstream beliefs about black non-heterosexual life in the U.S. Much of what exists in archives are the papers of individuals who have passed on, or organizations that no longer exist; one of the great things about this collection is that it showcases contemporary black LGBTQ voices, offering listeners a window into an array of writers, performing artists, intellectuals, and scholars—and everyday people, sharing their unique experiences.

"Plenty of creatures are intelligent but only one tells stories." If that's true, and we are more properly pan narrans than homo sapiens, the most human thing we can do is to take a moment and listen to one another. The internet is full of people talking, but connection and real understanding—those come only from listening. Thanks, StoryCorps, for reminding us.

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