Voice of Witness

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Established 2004
Co-Founders Dave Eggers, Lola Vollen
Exec. Dir. Mimi Lok
Headquarters San Francisco, CA, USA
Homepage voiceofwitness.org

Voice of Witness is a non-profit organization that uses oral history to illuminate contemporary human rights crises in the U.S. and around the world through an oral history book series (published by McSweeney's) and an education program. Voice of Witness has published ten books that present narratives from survivors of human rights crises including: exonerated men and women; residents of New Orleans before, during, and after Hurricane Katrina; undocumented workers in the United States; and persons abducted and displaced as a result of the civil war in southern Sudan.[1][2] The Voice of Witness Education Program brings these stories, and the issues they reflect, into high schools and impacted communities through oral history-based curricula and holistic educator support.

By using personal narratives, the series seeks to empower witnesses and survivors, generate awareness about social injustices and human rights issues, and provide documentation for educators, advocates, and policymakers.[3] The editors of Voice of Witness utilize interviews, primary source documents, and extensive fact checking to construct the stories presented in each book. Dave Eggers, Voice of Witness co-founder and author, describes the project as "a partnership between the people telling their stories and the people transmitting them to the reader."[4]

The Voice of Witness book series was founded in 2004 by author Dave Eggers and physician Lola Vollen, M.D.. Mimi Lok joined in 2008 as Executive Director & Executive Editor, and turned Voice of Witness into a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Voice of Witness is based in San Francisco, California.[5]


Surviving Justice: America's Wrongfully Convicted and Exonerated (2005)

Voices from the Storm: The People of New Orleans on Hurricane Katrina and Its Aftermath (2006)

Underground America: Narratives of Undocumented Lives (2008)

En Las Sombras De Estados Unidos (2009) (The Spanish Language edition of Underground America.)

Out of Exile: The Abducted and Displaced People of Sudan (2008)

  • Edited by Craig Walzer

Hope Deferred: Narratives of Zimbabwean Lives (2010)

Nowhere to Be Home: Narratives from Survivors of Burma's Military Regime (2010)

  • Edited by Maggie Lemere and Zoë West

Patriot Acts: Narratives of Post-9/11 Injustice (2011)

Inside This Place, Not of It: Narratives from Women's Prisons (2011)

Throwing Stones at the Moon: Narratives from Colombians Displaced by Violence (2012)

  • Edited by Sibylla Brodzinsky and Max Schoening

Refugee Hotel (2012)

  • Edited by Juliet Linderman, Photography by Gabriele Stabile

High-Rise Stories: Narratives from Chicago Public Housing (2013)

  • Edited by Audrey Petty

Invisible Hands: Voices from the Global Economy (2014)

  • Edited by Corinne Goria


Critical reception for the Voice of Witness series has been positive. Publishers Weekly lauded Underground America as "no less than revelatory."[6] The San Francisco Chronicle described Out of Exile as "[e]ssential...an admirable project." Chronicle reviewer John Freeman wrote: "Many of those who do survive (the Sudanese civil war) escape with nothing but their story, something this essential collection of oral testimony records and, in a realistic way, celebrates."[7]

In its review of Surviving Justice, Boston's Weekly Dig praised the series' use of oral history: “The nature of oral history ... allows the exonerees’ stories to be poignant and indignant without the earnestness, false empathy or guilt that would normally poison such subject matter.”[8] The New Orleans Times Picayune called Voices from the Storm a "powerful book" that "draws its strength from the real voices of real New Orleanians."[9]

VOW in the classroom[edit]

Voice of Witness has developed core standard-aligned educational resources, including lesson plans for teaching Surviving Justice and Voices in the Storm in high school classrooms, and for instruction on oral history.[10] According to the Voice of Witness web site, the series has been utilized in both college and high school classrooms around the country, including Balboa High School in San Francisco, California, Bentley School in the San Francisco Bay Area, CUNY, Brown University, Valley High School Louisville, KY, and San Francisco State University.[11] Voice of Witness and the Facing History and Ourselves organization have established a partnership to bring the series to additional classrooms.[12]

Founding editors[edit]

Dave Eggers Author, Publisher

Lola Vollen, M.D., Visiting Scholar, Institute for International Studies, University of California, Berkeley; Life After Exoneration Program, Executive Director

Board of Directors/Board of Advisors[edit]


Jill Stauffer, Asst. Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Concentration in Peace, Justice and Human Rights, Haverford College

Mimi Lok, Executive Director & Executive Director, Voice of Witness

Rajasvini Bhansali, Executive Director, International Development Exchange

Kristine Leja, Senior Development Director, Habitat for Humanity, Greater San Francisco

Holly Muñoz, Musician and Song Writer, Co-founder, Mid-Continent Oceanographic Institute


Roger Cohn, Former Editor-in-Chief, Mother Jones

Mark Danner, Author, Professor, Graduate School of Journalism, University of California, Berkeley

Harry Kreisler, Executive Director, Institute for International Studies, University of California, Berkeley

Martha Minow, Dean, Harvard Law School, Harvard University

Samantha Power, Professor, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

John Prendergast, Co-chair, The Enough Project

Orville Schell, Former Dean, Graduate School of Journalism, University of California, Berkeley

William T. Vollmann, Author

Studs Terkel (Deceased), Author, Oral Historian

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Cooke, Rachel (March 7, 2010). "Dave Eggers: From 'staggering genius' to America's conscience". The Guardian. London. Retrieved May 3, 2010. [dead link]
  2. ^ Sharrock, Justine (March–April 2009). "MoJo Interview: Dave Eggers". Mother Jones. Retrieved May 3, 2010. 
  3. ^ a b c "About Voice of Witness". 
  4. ^ Gidley, Ruth (June 25, 2008). "Breaking the silence: A new project led by Dave Eggers is documenting the stories of people whose voices usually go unheard, finds Ruth Gidley". The Guardian. London. Retrieved May 3, 2010. [dead link]
  5. ^ Alter, Alexandra (July 17, 2009). "A Family's Flood: Author Dave Eggers tries to gives Katrina survivors a voice in a nonfiction book". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved May 3, 2010. 
  6. ^ "Web Pick of the Week. Web Exclusive Reviews: Week of 6/9/2008". Publishers Weekly. New York. June 9, 2008. Retrieved May 12, 2010. 
  7. ^ Freeman, John (December 14, 2008). "'Out of Exile' - the Sudanese speak". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved December 14, 2008. 
  8. ^ McMurrow, Paul (December 8, 2005). "Surviving Justice: America's Wrongfully Convicted and Exonerated". Boston's Weekly Dig. Archived from the original on 2005-12-12. 
  9. ^ Larson, Susan (December 18, 2006). "Lift every voice". The Times-Picayune. New Orleans. 
  10. ^ Morehouse, Lisa (May 21, 2008). "How to Build Instruction Around Your Region's History: Find surprising teaching opportunities for hands-on learning in underresourced areas". Edutopia. San Rafael. Retrieved May 3, 2010. 
  11. ^ "Teachers Original". Voice of Witness. 
  12. ^ "Facing History Celebrates 20 Years in Chicago with 2010 Benefit Dinner" (Press release). April 5, 2010. Archived from the original on 2014-01-13. 

External links[edit]