Youths celebrate Women’s History Month with oral history workshop

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Martha's Vineyard Museum oral history curator Linsey Lee. —Photo Courtesy of Linsey Lee

If you’ve visited the Oak Bluffs library lately, you may have noticed the displays in celebration of Women’s History Month. The exhibits — one on the first floor and one in the children’s room — feature portraits of local women, both current and historical, along with excerpts from oral histories. Writer Dorothy West, artist Lois Maïllou Jones, and Shirley Smith of Shirley’s Hardware are all included.

The collection, titled “Voices of Vineyard Women,” was curated by Linsey Lee, the oral history curator at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum. This Saturday, March 19, the library and museum will co-sponsor a workshop for teens that will expand on the idea of oral histories. Ms. Lee, along with MVY Radio DJ Laurel Redington and Oak Bluffs librarian Nate Luce, will lead a “Young Women’s Oral History Workshop” for 11- to 18-year-olds.

The ultimate goal of the workshop is for the participants to put together their own oral-history recording, which may end up being aired on MVY Radio. The general theme is “strong women who inspire you.”

“The idea is to learn some new skills and try out interviewing and putting together your own piece,” Ms. Lee said. “It’s an opportunity for them to explore and test. It’s a wonderful skill for anybody to learn. How to listen, how to ask questions, and thinking about what are the poignant parts of the story.”

Both Ms. Lee and Ms. Redington are seasoned professionals at interviewing, although their approaches, by necessity, are very different. While Ms. Redington conducts relatively short, unedited interviews, Ms. Lee has been conducting lengthy interviews with local subjects since the 1970s. Her process involves distilling each subject’s story down to subject-themed segments. Most of the museum’s exhibits include audio selections from Ms. Lee’s vast collection.

“Going from doing five hours of interviewing and coming up with a little three-minute piece that’s true to the subject is challenging,” Ms. Lee said.

The workshop participants will practice by interviewing each other or the instructors, then come up with ideas for potential subjects, topics to discuss, and questions to ask.

“It’s an age range that’s fraught with fears and challenges, and a wonderful time to be creative,” Ms. Lee said. “What we’ll be working toward is making them feel comfortable about learning about the world around them. It should be fun.”

Another collaborative initiative between the museum and the local libraries is the ongoing series “Island Stories from the Museum.” The Vineyard libraries have been hosting a series of talks on a rotating basis. The speakers and topics are dependent on the location, but all of the talks are related to items featured in the museum’s recent book “Island Stories: Highlights from the MV Museum.” Upcoming talks include one at the Oak Bluffs library on April 7 and one at the Edgartown library on May 5.

“Young Women’s Oral History Workshop”: Saturday, March 19, 1 to 3 pm, Oak Bluffs library meeting room. Open to young women ages 11-18. Space is limited. Call 508-693-9433, ext. 142, to preregister.