Monday, March 12, 2012

Monday Muse: Knox Writers' House Map of Voices

How would you visualize a map of the voices of writers throughout America?

In an ambitious undertaking to create a searchable, universally accessible audio archive of recorded poems, stories, and essays of and interviews with American writers, Emily Oliver, Sam Conrad, and Bryce Parsons-Twesten set out on a trip that eventually would take them thousands of miles across the Midwest, into the South, and then north to several cities on the East Coast, where they asked scores of writers to introduce themselves, talk about their communities, describe their career paths, and record their voices. The result is The Knox Writers' House Recording Project: A Map of Voices, which shows us where writers live, what they write, who they read, and how they sound.

Building their Google-powered map city by city, the trio is determined to bring us the voices of writers wherever they are. The three have recorded writers in Amherst, Massachusetts; Atlanta, Georgia; Austin, Texas; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Beloit, Wisconsin; Birmingham, Alabama; Champaign-Urbana and Chicago, Illinois; Decatur, Georgia; Duluth, Minnesota; Galesburg, Illinois; Germantown, New York; Iowa City, Iowa; Kalamazoo, Michigan; Kansas City, Missouri, and Kansas City, Kansas; Lawrence, Kansas; Lincoln, Nebraska; Los Angeles, California; Madison, Wisconsin; Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota; New Haven, Connecticut; New Orleans, Louisiana; New York, New York; Oxford, Mississippi; Pella, Iowa; Providence, Rhode Island; San Diego and San Francisco, California; St. Louis, Missouri; and Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Individual maps for each of the cities, A-to-Z, are collected here.

The voices recorded include the well-known (Mary Jo Bang, Marvin Bell, Jericho Brown, Robert Hass, D.A. Powell, James Tate, and C.D. Wright) and the unfamiliar, all listed alphabetically and hyperlinked here. Each writer has his or her own page, where a charming illustration, sometimes a brief biography and interview, and a list of hyperlinked recordings are found. Each page also identifies other writers in the writer's city or community.

A section titled Playlists includes links to what Conrad, Oliver, and Parsons-Twesten, as well as project director Monica Berlin, a professor at Knox College, Galesburg, Illinois, are listening to now, what they call the "stuff we can't get out of our heads". 

The site is intuitive and easy to use, and although the collective and individual maps are still being augmented and a huge amount of material is still to be added, the project already is a remarkable resource.

Two suggestions for the site: Add an alpha ribbon at the top of the page containing the A-to-Z list of writers and add on each writer's page a link to the writer's Website. 

Writers interested in recording for the project and being added to the map will find contact information at the end of the About page. In an e-mail responding to my inquiry, Knox Writers House says that before heading to a new location, staff usually ask for recommendations from writers already recorded. Staff record writers in person.

My thanks to the Poetry Foundation, which spotlighted the project in a blog post.

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Hannah Stephenson said...

Amazingly cool project!!

Yes---I'd love to submit some Ohio would be great to make this very interactive and update-able.

Anonymous said...

cool idea