Dispatch from the Field: The Latest on Current Projects

This summer, VOW’s editors have been making big strides on their oral history projects. (Thanks in no small part to everyone who supported the Seed the VOW Story Fund Campaign this past spring!)

Here are the latest updates on the next book in the VOW series, and the six projects currently incubating in the VOW Story Lab:


Peter interviewingWe’re excited to report that the next book in the Voice of Witness series is scheduled for release this January!

Lavil: Narratives of Post-Earthquake Port-au-Prince features stories of life in Haiti’s capital before, during, and after the devastating 2010 earthquake. Peter Orner (Underground America, Hope Deferred) and Dr. Evan Lyons are the book’s editors.

Our team of interviewers is currently on the ground in Port-au-Prince, meeting with the book’s narrators to share the near-final versions of their stories and secure their final approval before the manuscript goes to print.


America's Social Arsonist, editor Gabriel Thompson's latest book   on Fred Ross, an organizer who mentored leaders like Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta and helped organize Latinos into a political force in California
Editor Gabriel Thompson’s latest book.

Editor Gabriel Thompson has been making major headway on the upcoming Chasing the Harvest: Migrant Workers in California Agriculture. He has been traveling throughout Central and Southern California’s major agricultural valleys conducting interviews with potential narrators, including:

  • A former farm worker who was a major grassroots leader with the United Farm Workers of America during the grape and lettuce strikes and boycotts during the 1970s
  • A current irrigator and pesticide applier who helped file a lawsuit that got the government to build public showers for farm workers in Coachella, so they wouldn’t have to bathe in canals that had been contaminated with pesticide runoff

Check out Gabriel’s latest book, America’s Social Arsonist: Fred Ross and Grassroots Organizing in the Twentieth CenturyRoss was an influential organizer who mentored leaders like Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, and helped organize Latinos into a political force in California.


Sara Sinclair Driving
Editor Sara Sinclair driving from Pierre, South Dakota to the Rosebud reservation. Photo courtesy of the editor.

The narrators that editor Sara Sinclair has interviewed so far have shared stories that illuminate some of the most pressing issues facing Native people in North America today: the ongoing impact of treaty law violations on the Lakota, the poverty crisis in Fort Mojave, and environmental injustice and the resulting health problems on the Navajo Nation, among others.

Next up for Sara is a follow-up trip to the Navajo Nation in the southwest. She will also travel to Canada to meet with narrators who have been impacted by discriminatory practices in Canada’s criminal justice system and the endemic of violence against Native women and girls.

Read a Q&A with editor Sara Sinclair.


Solitary image
Photo credit: Shannon O’Toole

Editors Taylor Pendergrass and Mateo Hoke (Palestine Speaks) have spoken with a wide range of people impacted by solitary confinement—some of whom offer an unexpected perspective.

They’ve met with several narrators who have been detained in solitary confinement, but they’ve also recorded stories with prison guards and people who describe how they saw their family members come home completely transformed by their time in solitary.

After conducting some preliminary phone interviews, Taylor and Mateo are now scheduling trips to the Deep South and to Texas, whose prison system is notorious for its egregious use of solitary confinement.

Read a Q&A with editor Taylor Pendergrass.


Joel, a young migrant interviewed in Oakland, CA. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Freedman.

July has been a busy month for editors Jonathan Freedman and Steven Mayers, who have been conducting interviews with youth migrants. Assistant editor Oscar Garcia, who was once a youth migrant himself, has been traveling with them and offering invaluable support and insight along the way.

The team just returned from Guadalajara, Mexico, where they visited the Casa de Migrante (migrant house) and completed six interviews. In an email to the VOW team back in San Francisco, Jonathan recounted the important role these institutions play in these treacherous journeys, “Thank goodness,” he said, “for the dedicated human rights activists and volunteers who offer [the youth migrants] food, shelter, rest, and clean clothes in migrant houses on the journey.”

Read a blog post about the editors’ recent trip to Chicago.


Editor Jimmie Briggs. Photo courtesy of the editor.
Editor Jimmie Briggs. Photo courtesy of the editor.

Editor Jimmie Briggs recently made a trip to Ferguson, Missouri along with co-editors Leora Kahn, the founder of PROOF: Media for Social Justice, and Joel R. Pruce, a human rights scholar at the University of Dayton (Ohio).

In preparation for the trip, the editors worked closely with the VOW Education Program to train a group of Joel’s documentary journalism students in conducting and editing oral history interviews. The team interviewed about two dozen potential narrators, including activists, police officers, and community leaders living in Ferguson.

Jimmie will return to Ferguson at the end of this month to interview several long-term residents, focusing on what kinds of changes they’ve witnessed in their community over the years.

Read a Q&A with editor Jimmie Briggs.


Members of the Zimbabwe Smallholder Organic Farmers Forum (ZIMSOFF), an IDEX partner
Members of the Zimbabwe Smallholder Organic Farmers Forum (ZIMSOFF), a Thousand Currents partner

We’re thrilled to be collaborating with Thousand Currents (formerly IDEX) on this project to amplify the voices of people fighting for food sovereignty in South Africa and Zimbabwe.

The Thousand Currents team is gearing up for an intensive oral history training with the VOW Education Program later this month. The training will bring together Thousand Currents’ regional directors from South Africa and Zimbabwe to prep them for the oral history fieldwork they’ll be conducting in their regions. We’ll also be mapping out the plans for the project, and expect the team will start conducting interviews in the fall.

Learn more about Thousand Currents.

Get the latest updates on upcoming projects. Join VOW’s mailing list and follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

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