It’s been said that New Orleans will punch you in the face and then hand you a rose. And whether you’ve called it home, hammered nails in the Lower 9th Ward, or simply strolled down Frenchmen Street, you’ll probably agree it’s a city that leaves a lasting impression on your heart, soul, and liver.
As part of the Land of Opportunity project, we’ve been documenting the epic journey of post-Katrina reconstruction for more than six years. We’ve filmed folks from almost every corner of the city, including public housing residents, immigrant workers, artists, community organizers, politicians, and businesspeople. In the process, we’ve discovered that New Orleans is utterly unique but that its story is also the story of urban America everywhere: a story of hope, heartbreak, and ever-shifting landscapes.
This month, on the 7th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, we’re partnering with Cowbird to launch their first place-based saga — New Orleans.
Please share a story, memory, or moment that defined your own experience there, whether it was a weekend visit or a lifelong relationship. In words, images, and sounds, tell us how this city charmed, challenged, seduced, and changed you — or how it spat you out.
We’re excited to watch this saga unfold into a beautiful mosaic of stories as powerful and diverse as the city that inspired them.
With a rose,
Homes, families, schools, gangs, teams, boards, tribes, marriages, nationalities and occupations — these are some of the groups we use to define us. They are clusters of human beings with similar experiences, values, and goals. Most would agree that everyone wants to be a member of one of them, a part of something. But then there comes a moment when we aren’t.
Some of us were outsiders briefly, for a day or a semester. Maybe we were outsiders until someone sat next to us, until our government allowed us to go back to our country, or until our family let us come home for the holidays. Others are cursed with minds and hearts that keep them outsiders forever, and some even like it that way. Some can’t recall ever having been an outsider, and so to them, outsiders don’t seem to exist.
My past and fallibility have left me with a heart for the struggle and the struggling, and I often focus my energy on people who live on the margins of this great big world and its various classifications. I’ve learned that these people, who often go unseen, sometimes have the most to teach us about humanity and being alive — there is a raw wisdom and insight that comes from isolation. I’ve also learned that no matter how marginalized a person might be, they almost always want to share a story of their experience.
Today, we launch our fifth saga — Outsiders.
Please contribute your stories of being, observing, or embracing the outsider. If you look hard enough, you’ll probably find a piece of yourself in every outsider story.
The Voices of Pine Ridge
For the last eight years, Aaron Huey has been photographing life on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, culminating in this month’s beautiful cover story for National Geographic Magazine.
Aaron has been using Cowbird to help the Pine Ridge community tell their own stories directly, and starting today, you can find hundreds of their own, unedited voices on National Geographic’s website, as an embedded Cowbird collection.
We hope this collaboration demonstrates a model that many other journalists and news organizations will follow for many other communities — using Cowbird as a way to give those communities a voice alongside the “official” account of their story. If you’re interested in piloting a project with us, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can browse the voices of Pine Ridge here — enjoy!
Today we celebrate storytelling legend Studs Terkel. With his seminal 1974 book Working, Studs gathered stories from over 130 Americans in different professions, exploring new and old ways of working.
As a birthday gift to Studs, who would have turned 100 today, we just launched our Working Saga.
This saga includes more than 400 stories - with beautiful images - from around the world. Like Studs’s ground-breaking book, this collection offers a glimpse at people working in many different places—in offices, airplanes, hotels, factories and call centers. Our saga also includes portraits of people who have kept the skilled trades alive, a cheese-maker and a street performer. With this globally crowd-sourced call to action, we’ve explored how people work today, and how that work shapes who they are. Explore the entire saga here.
Thanks to all of you, we did Studs proud. Here are some gems that totally dismantle our conceptions of the ole 9-5:
P.S. Also, we’re not the only ones crowd-sourcing stories for the Studs Terkel Centenary! The Center for Digital Storytelling (US) and the Museu da Pessoa/Museum of the Person (Brazil) celebrate May 16, the 5th Annual International Day for Sharing Life Stories.
California has had its share of budget cuts in the past year, especially in the realm of education. This affected teachers, schools, after school programs and so much more, but have you ever wondered how it affected the soundtrack to your day?
Daily story author Celine noticed that the street outside her friend’s window had gone silent. Her friend lived next door to a school’s playground and when she could no longer hear the sounds of children’s laughter or the bounce of a dodge ball, Celine wondered if the students had vanished.
Celine, photographer, visual thinker, and self-described geek, cleverly mixes short electronic beats or short snippets with powerful imagery to share her insights on “days in the jungle of history.” While living in San Francisco, Celine has also taken unusual portraits of the city’s characters.
Handpicked: “He didn’t Mean to Die”
In this daily story, author Sara Curtis visits her grandmother at a rest home. Nana Curtis has given up talking on the phone, so Sara asks her to say something into an audio recorder, so she can feel close to her when she’s far away. Her grandmother delivers an unexpectedly powerful message. Sara - a storyteller who lives in San Francisco - tells stories that often have this element of surprise. Sometimes it’s a strange face appearing amid traffic, other times it’s a splash of color on the sidewalk.
Handpicked: “one night stand”
Zach, the author of Sunday’s daily story, writes poems about everyday life on Cowbird. He’s written about waiting at a bus station, listening to music, running in to a one night stand. Without exception, his stories are illustrated with blocks of color like this one.
Zach doesn’t describe himself as a poet. He says he is “a janitor and a noticer.” In his characteristic lowercase, Zach writes: “i am a janitor at a hospital. i enjoy playing racquetball, making crafts, riding my bike, watching movies, traveling, reading, and everything about music. sharing written things freaks me out.” Oops! Well, the Cowbird community has enjoyed Zach’s written things. In fact, an unusual number of poems cropped up on Cowbird in the 24 hours after we chose his story, including this one.
Handpicked: “Emily to the Rescue”
When daily story author Adriana Regalado saw two little eyes peeking out from beneath a pile of leaves, she didn’t think twice before picking them up. In her hand was the hummingbird that would come to be known as Emily.
In this and other stories we circulated today, people bear witness to the powerful appearance of an animal - or animals - in their lives. One woman must save a pot of bees. Another, two feisty baby hedgehogs.
Soon we plan to interview our resident animal expert, Dave Huth, about his playful devotion to the animal kingdom. Check out his awe-inspiring audio collection of animal stories, and send questions for Dave to email@example.com.
Handpicked: “Beer Bottle”
In this daily story, Yen Ha describes a night on the town from the beer bottle’s point of view. Yen has taken the same imaginative approach to writing about more than a dozen objects spotted on the streets of Manhattan. In each case, she takes a photo of the item lying on the ground, usually on the sidewalk, which lends the series a certain visual consistency. I asked Yen about her project:
“I’m an architect so to me this is a very urban project, it’s about the impact we have on the city when we use and unthinkingly discard things and what that means to the life of our cities. Since I started this series, I can’t stop noticing things on the street and thinking about how they got there! Everything has a story and I feel like they are all clamoring to be heard. In a way we thought of it as a public awareness campaign, a way of telling personal stories about inanimate objects to encourage people to notice the effects their actions have on our environment.”
This is working — at least on Cowbird. Yen’s trash series has inspired at least one author to tell the story from the point of view of a discarded item, namely, a little blue pill.
Handpicked: “Mad Men”
On a rainy night in London, Leilani Holmes had an interesting experience: her bus was stopped by a man — who was repeatedly head-butting it. “What made him so senselessly aggressive toward a big red bus I can only surmise,” Leilani writes in today’s daily story.
This was framed as a personal reflection, not reportage, but like most of Leilani’s 99 (!) stories to date, it offered a glimpse at life on the streets of London today. Leilani describes herself as an actor, screenwriter, filmmaker, and teadrinker. She is also a walker and a watcher. Stories like this one - and “A Very Tall Man” and “Barren Days” - are good examples of how text can change the way we see a city scene.