Without Veil: The Shield Behind Social Change On Martha’s Vineyard

photo of NAACP march on Martha's Vineyard
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Having had several other stories fall through, paired with missing a little over a week of the workshop due to a family emergency, I got a relatively late start on Without Veil. I ultimately left Woods Hole with a rough edit containing all the elements of the final piece but kept working on it afterwards. I wanted to share it here. With stricter time parameters, I was forced to utilize everything I had learned over the previous two months at Transom — to “make myself as aerodynamic as possible”: thinking of ideal characters and seeking them out; mentally formulating my script while conducting interviews; writing narration as the story developed to capture my thought process; and, maybe most importantly, relying on my colleagues when it mattered most.

Finding Voices

When I decided to do this story, I wasn’t sure if Chief Blake would agree to an interview but I was determined to follow through with the story either way. I figured if I could get him on tape saying “no comment,” that too would speak volumes. Because I couldn’t rely on the subject of my story to participate, that meant I had to find three other credible voices to fill out the story: someone who had knowledge of the current organization, a historical expert, and someone who knew Chief Blake personally. I approached the situation in a circular fashion, working on interviewing whom I thought it would be easiest to get ahold of first, and saving the Chief for last. I must have called over fifty different phone numbers in an attempt to find the voices I needed but, in the end, my best friend was patience. I had found Chief Blake’s personal cellphone number on the first day, a Monday, but instinctually felt that if I spoke to people who could help me get ahold of him, it might be an easier way to ingratiate myself than to ring him up cold. It worked. He called me from the aforementioned cellphone that Friday and I interviewed him three days later.

The Tape Rules

What I learned from doing this story was: follow your instinct, and listen to your tape as soon as you can. I was on such a tight schedule, I was logging my tape as soon as the interviews were over. Because I was quickly learning what questions were getting the best tape, I was better able to streamline my questioning for the next interview, and by the time I got to the Chief, I felt really confident about what I needed an answer for and why. Something else that really helped me was making friends with locals. Information I was able to glean simply because someone who had grown up in the area mentioned it casually over a beer was invaluable, and it made all the difference in the tape I was able to get.

Personal Connection

What was rewarding about making this story was the pursuit to completion. There was a moment when I was either going to do it, or not — and I could taste disappointment seeping into the air, and it filled me with electricity. I decided the story was going to be told and nothing could stop that from happening. The drive I felt to finish reminded me why I do creative work — because I have to. Reporting this story also made me feel close to both my mother and my father, for different reasons. Being able to pay homage to them that way felt most rewarding of all.

You can find W.E.B. Du Bois’ acclaimed book of essays, “The Souls of Black Folk” on Project Gutenberg, and more information about the NAACP and Black Lives Matter on their respective websites.

About James’ Sonic ID

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Gretchen is what radio reporters have in mind when they think about “getting good tape.” Naturally disarming, cuttingly honest, and funny to boot — I was beginning to interview her for another story when, to gage her comfort level, I asked a throwaway question about a term I had heard: “Washashores”. She didn’t disappoint.

Listen to more pieces from this Story Workshop class here.

James Albert Sneed

About
James Albert Sneed

James Albert is a storyteller, sound artist, and radio producer. His work deals in themes of nostalgia, discomfort, endurance, and environment. When not working on a project, James can be found in Queens -- agonizing over the NY Mets.

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  • Shelley Christiansen

    12.04.18

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    So delighted with your production, James! Congratulations. You’ve got talent and dedication. A surefire combo. I look forward to hearing more from you as you grow your craft. I hope we’ll finally meet face to face if ever you “wash ashore” the Vineyard again.

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