Coastal Voices by Diane Lea

One of the great pleasures of living on Hatteras Island is the people you meet here. Many, like my husband and me, moved here after having lived and worked elsewhere. What is remarkable about these transplants is how many of them are willing to use their skills and talents to enrich their new community. And it was just such a transplant, my friend and Buxton neighbor Sandi Jones Garrison, who first told me about Coastal Voices, an oral history project for which she was a volunteer. The Coastal Voices website,, describes the project’s mission to record the maritime heritage of the Outer Banks and Down East region of North Carolina.

I spoke with one of the project’s founders, Susan West, a journalist and oral historian who worked for many years with the Maryland Historical Society before moving to Hatteras Island. “I moved here in the mid-1970s expecting to stay only a few months,” says Susan, who held a variety of jobs — waitress, postal employee, writer for local and national publications —  before turning her volunteer time to Coastal Voices. West teamed up with Barbara Garrity-Blake to raise support for the training of volunteers to interview and record the stories of their friends and neighbors who were willing to share their life experiences on the Outer Banks.

Unlike West, Garrity-Blake’s path to Carolina’s Outer Banks was professionally driven. As a cultural anthropologist with a Ph.D. from the University of Virginia, Blake came to the Down East portion of the Outer Banks to do field research. She fell in love with the area and a Down East resident, married, and has been here ever since.

In late 2013, in partnership with the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center, the Outer Banks Community Foundation, the North Carolina Arts Council, the Duke Center for Documentary Studies, the Outer Banks History Center and the the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Garrity-Blake and West began training fellow volunteers to become community oral historians. “We try to keep the training sessions fun as well as informative,” says West. Basics include using the recording equipment, doing pre-interview research, and outlining questions needed to elicit a good interview. The volunteers are free to choose their interview subjects, who have ranged in age from 13 to 90.  They don’t even have to be area natives, just folks with stories to tell.  West admits that, for her, the most difficult part of the process is transcribing the interview.

Readers can access the Coastal Voices oral histories on-line under the Collections bar of the website menu.

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