Project Records Louisville's Diversity from Inside Out

For the past 11 months, Louisville Story Program has been working with nine female authors from Iroquois High School, the most diverse high school in Kentucky (35 native languages spoken every day with more than one-third of students foreign born) with some of the lowest test scores in the district. These authors, who hail from six countries and speak nine languages between them, have written a groundbreaking anthology of nonfiction that counteracts incomplete narratives about their school, neighborhoods and communities.

No Single Sparrow Makes a Summer, forthcoming in October 2018, documents the diversity of lived experience in Louisville from the inside out with remarkable depth and richness. Each author composed a chapter of first-person narrative accounts of her life and experiences in a rigorous, college-level writing workshop Louisville Story Program (LSP) staff led five days a week at Iroquois throughout the entire 2017-18 academic year. They wrote about the ravages of war, life before and after moving to Louisville as refugees and immigrants, the foster care system, juvenile detention, motherhood and many other challenges and triumphs. LSP’s mission is to amplify unheard voices and untold stories in Louisville, and this objective is most successful when individuals and communities tell their own stories in their own words, as opposed to outsiders speaking on their behalf.

So, in addition to countless hours spent studying the craft and writing personal essays, the Iroquois authors have conducted oral history interviews with members of their communities in order to document and honor the experiences of others. These interviews, generated from within traditionally underrepresented communities, were edited into compelling, relatable narratives that will be included in the book and which support LSP’s core aim to create and sustain community by encouraging discourse. LSP author Narjis Alsaadi (right in the accompanying photo) is interviewing her friend and fellow Iraqi refugee Ansam Rashiid about growing up in Baghdad, seeking safety in Syria and finally coming to America. Both of these young women came to the United States to escape the sectarian recriminations that have ruined so many lives and separated so many families in Iraq.

Narjis was a very young girl when her father, who’d been threatened by ISIS, was forced to leave everything behind and take her family to Turkey and later find refuge in America. She has been piecing together the causes and effects of the wars in Iraq. In talking with others in the American Iraqi community, she has started to develop an understanding of the situations that necessitated her family’s flight from their home and subsequent hardships that tore her country and her family apart. She has gleaned a greater understanding of what binds a community together in diaspora, and how culture and tradition travel. Some of our most gratifying moments at LSP are being present as participants cultivate the practices of curiosity and deep listening in the interview process, and share in the dignified communion that develops between interviewer and interviewee.

Perhaps the only thing more rewarding is trusting that this sense of communion will be carried onto the page for those readers who wish to know more about their neighbors. (Editor’s Note: The Louisville Story Program received fiscal year 2018 grant funding from the Kentucky Oral History Commission (KOHC) at the Kentucky Historical Society to transcribe the “No Single Sparrow Makes a Summer” oral histories. The University of Louisville Oral History Center will hold these interviews and transcripts. Thanks to Joe Manning, LSP deputy director, for writing this blog.)

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