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StoryCorps Founder Dave Isay on His Top 5 Holiday Tales

These stories of heroism and hope are not to be missed.

The recent success of Serial, Sarah Koenig’s epic, true-crime podcast that kept millions riveted to their iPods this past year, has demonstrated a real hunger in our culture for compelling, and often difficult, stories. Whether it was criminal activity in the NSA, as revealed by Laura Pointras in Citizenfour, or the hidden artistry of a reclusive street photographer in Finding Vivian Maier, we can give thanks this holiday season for the poignant, thoughtful and groundbreaking narratives that drove 2014. One important figure helping to further this art form is StoryCorps founder and this year’s TED Prize winner Dave Isay who, in the great American folk tradition of grand storytelling, has spent the last decade collecting some of our nation’s most haunting and heartfelt moments. As Isay mentioned to us after receiving his TEDprize, “Listening is such an important way of letting other people know that their lives matter. In many ways, listening is the ultimate act of generosity to another human being.” In keeping with this spirit, Isay recently filled us in on his top 5 holiday StoryCorps narratives, plucked from the vast collection housed in the Library of Congress, and why he found them so compelling.

1. Yelitza Castro and Willie Davis share a unique family meal\n


“You remember the first dinner together?”

“An undocumented worker in North Carolina makes dinner for homeless men and changes their lives—a remarkable story of decency and kindness that all started one Christmas Eve.”

(Hear the full story.)

2. Kerry Johnson interviews his mother Carrie Conley on raising six children\n

“How did you get by?”

“A single mom from Detroit who worked long hours in a local hospital delivering food trays to patients, while raising six kids, is interviewed and honored by her son, a doctor. Much of the conversation revolves around their memories of Christmas. Carrie Conley represents this country at its best— a true American hero.”

(Hear the full story.)

3. The Road Home\n

“In this animation, a homeless man in Chapel Hill, North Carolina named Eddie Lanier is befriended by a passerby, David Wright, who brings him home to his family for Thanksgiving dinner. It turns our Eddie's father was once mayor of Chapel Hill. Eddie Lanier died last month—David Wright was with him when he passed away. This conversation between two remarkable men reminds us all of the poetry, grace and beauty in the stories we can find all around us when we take the time to listen to one another.”

(Hear the full story.)

"The Road Home" is part of StoryCorps' first-ever half-hour animated special, Listening Is an Act of Love, which premiered November 28, 2013 on the PBS documentary series, POV.

4. Miguel Alvarez and Maurice Rowland, unlikely guardian angels\n

“If we left, they wouldn't have nobody.”

“A story we broadcast just a couple of weeks ago: a janitor and a cook at an assisted living home spend three days and nights with elderly residents after the company that managed the home suddenly shut it down. Reminds us about what's really important.”

(Hear the full story.)

Note: The incident led to legislation in California known as the Residential Care for the Elderly Reform Act of 2014.

5. Julio Diaz, robbed on a subway platform in the Bronx, changes a life\n

“As he's walking away, I'm like, 'Hey, you forgot something...'”

“Julio Diaz is mugged by a kid on a subway platform. As the mugger walks away, Julio offers him his coat and then buys him a meal. The story seems to go viral every holiday season, so I'm abiding by the wisdom of the crowd.”

(Hear the full story.)

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