Story by Abigail Winn
Ira Glass’s voice in person has almost the exact same effect as it does on the radio: it settles into your chest and curls close to your heart, and leaves you with a warmth you’ll want to experience again and again. Anyone who has listened to his award-winning radio show and podcast “This American Life” might understand this feeling too.
Glass shared his storytelling wisdom with 12 SOJC students prior to his April 22 lecture, “Seven Things I’ve Learned: An Evening with Ira Glass,” at the Hult Center in downtown Eugene, Ore. During the Q&A, he covered a variety of topics, from how to report well on education to revitalizing old narratives to the ethics of editing the popular podcast “S-town.”
He emphasized the importance of actually going on location and talking to those who work and study in schools to be able to put together a truly good story on education issues, citing a year he spent in two Chicago public schools reporting on school reforms in the 1990s. When it came to old storylines, Glass stressed finding new perspectives to give them new life, using the recent uptick in deportation and anti-immigration rhetoric as an example.
But his overarching message by the end of the hour-and-a-half Q&A session? Make stuff you like, even if it’s bad. “The single most important thing you need to be doing is noticing what’s fun and interesting to you,” he said.
Glass carried that theme over into his lecture, sharing personal favorite pieces and learning experiences from his time on the air as a comment on current social and cultural climates. He shared a short piece, “What it’s like to drive across the country and try to learn Spanish,” about a man who ended up buying $26 worth of tacos at a food truck after he tried and failed to use the Spanish he’d picked up on a cross-country trip. Another, more meaningful story — and my personal favorite — was “What I learned from musicals,” which detailed his first musical experience and his relationship with his mother through the years.
The lecture took a more serious turn when Glass played a story about a mother living in a Greek refugee camp with her children. The subject tapped into a hot-button issue with a call to recognize each other’s unique humanity through “the intimacy of hearing somebody’s voice.”
This struck me, as I feel as though we as individuals and as a society don’t spend enough time actively listening to stories outside our own little bubbles. It inspired me to think about how I engage with others and how important it is to seek out other perspectives, especially at this moment in history, when there is increasing division between races, faiths and political stances.
As Glass’s words carried over the dark hall, we all leaned in further, eager to keep listening.
Abigail Winn is a junior studying photojournalism and advertising at the SOJC. She writes for the 2017 SOJC Track Bureau class, is a FIG Assistant for Rock ’n’ Physics and does freelance photography for local bands and the Music Industry Collective. A native Portlander, she enjoys the outdoors, singing in the UO University Singers and Women’s Choir and reading a good book when she’s not out on a shoot, at Hayward Field or in rehearsal. You can check out her photography portfolio at abigailwinn.businesscatalyst.com and follow her on Twitter @winn_abigail and Instagram @for_the_winnnn.