Although humans have always told and collected stories, it is often the voices of the powerful that make the front pages and history books. But in recent years a number of projects aim to remedy that—StoryCorps, for example, which records the experiences of everyday Americans, and Witness, a nonprofit that trains people to record human rights abuses around the world. Riding this wave is Voice of Witness, a book series that illuminates human rights abuses through oral history—by providing a platform for people who normally go unheard to speak for themselves.
Inspired and encouraged by the late storyteller Studs Terkel, Voice of Witness (VOW) is an offshoot of McSweeney’s, the San Francisco-based publishing house begat by Dave Eggers, who first came to prominence with his groundbreaking autobiography, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. Like his subsequent novel, What Is the What, which is based on hours of interviews with Sudanese refugee Valentino Achak Deng, the VOW series relies on thousands of hours of interviews with people from all walks of life. These first-person accounts—put into paperback form—are also buoyed with comprehensive appendices produced from meticulous research.