My first Alaskan book project wasn’t really mine. Even though I was a first year teacher, principal (and now artist) Michael Murray entrusted me with an oral history project he’d begun with our students under the supervision of Ann Vick, working with Doubleday’s Anchor Press. The result of our collective efforts was The Cama-i Book, published in 1982.

The project was a spin-off of Foxfire, a project by famed educator Eliot Wiggington, affectionately known as Wiggs, in which high school students interviewed Appalachian elders and published their stories. In the Cama-i (a Yupik word of greeting, pronounced chah-my) project, students gathered wisdom and stories from elders in Kodiak, Bristol Bay, and the Yukon-Kuskokwim region.

Our tiny high school of 30-some students was responsible for the entire YK Delta section of the book. Gertrude Jacobs, Elena White, James Chaliak, James Chase, Anna Wasillie, and a handful of others did the hard work of interviewing, selecting, compiling, fact-checking, and writing narratives that would otherwise have been lost, translating from Yupik to English throughout.

That was over 25 years ago. Now the entire state of Alaska is embarking on an oral history project through StoryCorps, a six-month initiative to collect oral histories in Nome, Dillingham, Fairbanks, Unalaska, Juneau, and Barrow. The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress will archive the 40-minute interviews, and participants receive their own CDs to keep. The national StoryCorps effort began five years ago, with 20,000 interviews recorded so far. You can catch excerpts from some of the most compelling each Friday on NPR’s morning edition.

Behind StoryCorps is the wonderful premise that, writers or not, all of us have rich stories to tell. To find out more about StoryCorps in Alaska, including information on how to participate, visit their website.

Scroll to Top