March 21, 2016
Coastal Voices: Listening to islanders tell
about their lives on Hatteras....WITH AUDIO

Coastal Voices,  a project that aims to preserve the maritime heritage of Hatteras and Ocracoke islands and Down East Carteret County through oral histories, was the topic of the Radio Hatteras interview show, "To the Point," on Sunday, March 20.

The guest for the interview was Susan West of Buxton, a long-time resident who is married to a commercial fisherman and who has long been interested in  Hatteras island history, heritage, and culture.  She's been a journalist and an author and now she's helping preserve some great stories of life in days gone by for all of us -- and for later generations -- to learn from and enjoy.

West is co-manager of Coastal Voices with Barbara Garrity-Blake of Carteret County, a cultural anthropologist.  The two have worked on projects together for a while -- including co-authoring a book, "Fish House Opera," published in 2003.

Several years ago, they wrote a proposal to do interviews with islanders for an oral history project and hoped to get federal funds to pay for it.  The funding never came through, but they decided to forge ahead anyway.

A Kickstarter fundraising campaign in late 2013 brought in more than $10,000 in contributions from about 100 individuals, businesses, and organizations.  Coastal Voices also got a grant from the Outer Banks Community Foundation to digitize some older oral history interviews that were done between 1978 and 2004 and were recorded on cassettes that are stored at the Outer Banks History Center and National Park Service headquarters in Manteo.

Thirty of these interviews with older islanders are now available for listening on the Coastal Voices website, And 15 news ones have been added.  You can also read the transcripts of the interviews.

Though the oral histories were available to anyone who wanted to travel to Manteo to listen to them, it is certainly more convenient to listen online.

West said more than 20 more interviews with Hatteras Islanders are waiting to be transcribed, so they, too, can be posted on the website.

Oral histories, West explains, are gathered by putting a tape recorder on the family table at Thanksgiving dinner when the generations are not gathered.  Nor are they discussions between two people. They are more structured as an interviewer aims to elicit information from a narrator.

They are interviews with "regular" people, such as your friends, neighbors, or family members, and they tend to be as much about everyday life, as they are about great historical events.

Many -- but not all -- of the narrators in the oral histories are older islanders.  We all have stories to tell, West notes -- even the students in the schools here who are getting educations that involve experiences others just don't have, such as traveling 100 miles to play a ball game.

"I laugh," West says when people say to me, 'Oh, why do you want to interview me? I don't have any stories to tell.' That's just not true, especially here on Hatteras Island.  We have a lot of great storytellers."

On the Coastal Voices website, you can listen to many Hatteras men and women talking about life on the islands way back when and not so long ago -- fishing, courting, cooking, church, family life, storms -- you name it and they talk about it.

The stories, West says, are "a wonderful gift to the community." They will be valuable to such folks as scholars and authors, but they also have appeal to those of us who live on Hatteras or love to visit here. The interviews are fascinating to listen to.

You can listen to the interviews, read the transcripts, and see some photos on the Coastal Voices website, which is easy to navigate.  You can find the folks whose lives you want to know more about or search for the subjects that interest you -- from the island's surfing pioneers to the waterfowl hunters.

Coastal Voices still needs community support to continue the project -- with many more interviews and other interesting pursuits.

You can donate on the website and you can also find out about volunteer opportunities.  The projects needs not just interviewers, but also people who can transcribe the interviews and perform other jobs, such as editing the audio.

To listen to the interview with Susan West on the Coastal Voices project, scroll down to the "To the Point" logo and click on the arrow.

"To the Point" airs on the island's community radio station, FM 101.5 , at 5 p.m. on the first and third Sunday of each month.  It is repeated on the second and fourth Sunday. Those who don't live on Hatteras can listen to the show on Sundays through live streaming at


Radio Hatteras is Hatteras Island's community, non-profit radio station and depends on grants, memberships, and underwriting.

It broadcasts around the clock with news -- including such things as surfing and fishing reports -- community announcements, music, and special programs. The station is also now streamed live. To listen, go to

Our community radio station also needs your support, and you can give that by purchasing a membership or by underwriting the station if you are a business or another community non-profit.

Radio Hatteras memberships are $50 for a family, $25 for an individual and $10 for a student. Mail memberships and other contributions to Radio Hatteras, P.O. Box 339, Frisco, NC 27936.

E-mail [email protected] or call (252) 995-6000 for information about underwriting opportunities.

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