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Belarusian journalist’s work of oral history leads to Nobel Prize for literature

This year’s Nobel Prize for literature went to a nonfiction writer from Belarus for chronicling the lives and times of people in the Soviet Union and the nations that succeeded it in works that combine journalism and oral history.

The works of Svetlana Alexievich include Voices from Chernobyl, based on interviews with people in Ukraine who survived the 1986 nuclear power plant disaster. In addition to nonfiction books, Alexievich also has written documentaries and screenplays.

Only two other nonfiction writers, Winston Churchill and Bertrand Russell, have been awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, and she is the first journalist to be so honored.

Officials of the Swedish Academy, which awards the prizes, praised Alexievich for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time” and credited her with developing “a new literary genre.”

New OHA pamphlet focuses on veterans

Oral historians interested in documenting veterans’ experiences can turn to a new OHA resource, Doing Veterans Oral History by Barbara W. Sommer, a collaboration between the Oral History Association and the Library of Congress Veterans History Project.

Sommer is an independent oral historian and longtime OHA member who has worked with countless community organizations and educators on a wide variety of oral history projects.

The 96-page, easy-to-use pamphlet, which was released at the OHA conference in Tampa, Florida, includes an introduction to oral history and a detailed discussion of what oral historians need to do before, during and after an interview. It also includes a chapter with information and recommendations for high school and college teachers who want their students to conduct oral histories with veterans.

The Library of Congress Veterans History Project has archived thousands of interviews with veterans donated by all manner of volunteer individuals, organizations and educators. The OHA pamphlet supplements and elaborates on materials the Veterans History Project has typically made available to would-be interviewers.

In particular, the pamphlet offers detailed suggestions on how to develop interview questions. It illustrates the difference between identifying overarching themes, such as daily life in the military, and specific topics within those themes, such as food, clothing, shelter, friendships, recreation, hardships and the like.

The pamphlet also contains information on dealing with sensitive issues and the practical and ethical concerns associated with interviewing veterans who experience post-traumatic stress disorder.

In addition, detailed appendices contain sample legal release forms, biographical information forms, an interview summary form, sample correspondence and information about media and format standards the Library of Congress will accept for archiving interviews with veterans.

Doing Veterans Oral History and other pamphlets in the OHA series are all available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble.  The list price for Doing Veterans Oral History is $15.