• High Rise Stories is available for order

      We’re excited to announce that High Rise Stories: Voices from Chicago Public Housing is now available.

      “Joyful, novelistic, and deeply moving.
      High Rise Stories radically expanded my
      understanding of human beings.”
      —George Saunders, author of Tenth of December

      Read an excerpt below.


      To read more from Dolores’s story and order your copy, click here.

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    • Meet Praveena Fernes, the Newest Member of the Voice of Witness Education Advisory Board


      The Voice of Witness education team is excited to announce the newest member of our education advisory board, Praveena Fernes.

      Praveena is a student at Tulane University in New Orleans, where she serves as a Community Service Scholar and Community Engagement Advocate. Her annual service trips to rural south India, where female infanticide and feticide is prevalent, have fueled her desire to advocate for women’s rights and health. As the youngest certified domestic violence counselor in the Bay Area, she educates high schoolers about dating violence.

      Her academic work centers on traumatic brain injuries in victims who have experienced domestic violence, and her research interests include studying the neuroanatomical morphometry of abusers. By combining her passion for improving public health with her fascination with the brain and her specialization as a domestic violence advocate, she plans on earning a PhD-MPH to initiate prevention programs and transform the way society perceives domestic violence.

      Welcome Praveena! Click here to learn more about the VOW education program advisory board.

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    • Palestine Speaks Co-Editor Mateo Hoke at Revolution Books


      Mateo Hoke, co-editor of Palestine Speaks: Narratives of Life Under Occupation, will be speaking at Revolution Books in Berkeley.

      Wednesday, July 15th, 2015 at 7 p.m.

      Revolution Books
      2425 Channing Way (Off of Telegraph Avenue), Berkeley, California 94704

      $5-$25 tickets available at Brown Paper Tickets or at the door.

      See the Facebook event here. Visit the Revolution Books event page here.

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    • Salon.com Interview with Dave Eggers and Mimi Lok


      Some were mysteriously scooped up for crimes they had supposedly committed. Others lived in the ruins of post-Katrina New Orleans. Still others – like the teenager in East Harlem who woke up to find FBI agents with loaded guns in her family’s apartment — saw parents or spouses dragged away with little explanation. There are confounding and engaging stories from all over the world in the Voice of Witnessoral-history series McSweeney’s puts out, all of which try to give the rest of us a fuller and more human sense of what’s going on in the world. “To read a Voice of Witness book,” short-story master George Saunders says, “is to feel one’s habitual sense of disconnection begin to fall away.”

      San Francisco-based McSweeney’s has just put out a selection of its previous books – which include “Surviving Justice” and “High Rise Stories” — called “The Voice of Witness Reader.” We spoke to executive editor Mimi Lok and Dave Eggers, McSweeney’s founder and editor of the new volume.

      Read the interview here.

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    • I Am Not My Parent’s Mistakes: Stories from Children of Incarcerated Parents

      Editor’s Note: The bi-weekly blog series “I, Witness,” seeks to explore the ethics, challenges, and possibilities of teaching and conducting oral history.


      Sophie Edelhart is a student at the Jewish Community High School of the Bay in San Francisco. Sophie’s senior project centered on creating podcasts featuring oral history interviews with children of incarcerated parents. She partnered with Community Works and their program Project WHAT! for her project.

      Why Oral History?
      I first got interested in oral history when I was assigned a “This American Life” project in my junior year of high school. The assignment was to develop a podcast around a theme and use interviews, narration, and music to create a 10 minute long piece. My group decided to focus on our school. More specifically, my group focused on the tension between our mostly white, Jewish private school located in the middle of a predominately African American, low-income neighborhood. We learned a lot in the process just by going out and talking to people. We learned more than we intended to and I really fell in love with the process of interviewing.  I particularly took to the editing part of the project and piecing together a narrative with multiple voices. It made me want to continue to try and do more with the medium, so when it came time to come up with my senior project, I decided to make a podcast. I find oral history appealing because having someone talk about their experiences in their own words provides a dimension to storytelling that I think is essential to understanding someone’s own perception of an event. That’s really invaluable when you’re trying to empathize with someone and learn new things.  

      Podcasts + Oral History
      For the past two years I’ve been a Mayoral Appointee on the San Francisco Youth Commission, a body of 17 young people who advise the Mayor and Board of Supervisors on issues affecting youth in San Francisco. Last year, I was chair of the Youth Justice committee, which is a specific issue-based committee that focuses on youth in or affected by the justice system. It was through that position that I began to work with Project WHAT. Project WHAT is an organization composed of children of incarcerated parents who advocate for better policy and services aimed at the children and families of those who are incarcerated. During our yearlong partnership with them, I got the opportunity to hear some of the youths’ stories. It made me realize how pressing these issues are, how little attention they get, and how important it was to hear those stories from the youth themselves. It was then that I decided I wanted to try and find some way to get these stories out in the world, so I decided to make a podcast.

      I chose the medium of podcasting because I think, as opposed to other mediums, it really requires the act of just listening. Listeners have to focus on the words being spoken instead of on visual aids or explanations. Podcasts are especially conducive to oral history for that reason. I feel the goal of an oral history is to help others listen and truly hear what another person has to say; podcasts require people to dedicate their attention to the storyteller.

      When I decided that I wanted to make a podcast, I began looking for resources to help me with the interview process as well as the editing process. My advisor, Roni Ben-David, put me in contact with Claire Kiefer from Voice of Witness. I met with Claire at the beginning of my process and she gave me a ton of advice on conducting interviews and making questions. She really helped me realize that my goal as an interviewer was to guide conversation, not dictate it.

      Not Just a Number
      The most interesting thing that I learned during this project is that no two experiences are alike. I interviewed five youth and all five had different personal experiences. Parental incarceration definitely carries some stigma, and people assume certain things about what that experience must be like. Some youth wanted to rebuild their relationship, some didn’t. Some youth knew their parents before their incarceration, some didn’t. Some youth feel their parent’s incarceration heavily impacted their life, some didn’t. Going through this process, working with Project WHAT, served to humanize and contextualize not only the experiences of having a parent incarcerated but also the parents themselves. I only hope that others feel the same.  

      While I can’t speak for the youth of Project WHAT directly, I believe that having the ability to share their stories puts the spotlight on them as individuals rather than being a number in a statistic. Given the current state of affairs, children of incarcerated parents aren’t often given the space or mainstream attention to tell their stories. This project gave them the medium to speak about their experiences and I hope that they found it as valuable as I do.

      Always Empathy
      For budding oral historians, I would say to trust your instincts, don’t be shy, and approach every interview with empathy. Always empathy. Your job is to provide a space where someone can share 100% of themselves and the world as they see it. The more you try and understand where they’re coming from, the more potential you have to learn.

      Click here listen to Sophie’s podcast, “I Am Note My Parent’s Mistakes: Stories from Children of Incarcerated Parents”

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