DTH: What inspired you to create a podcast in the first place, especially one about your family and the grief you hold?
SS: I think, for me, I’ve always been someone who runs away from tough questions or big identity crises in any way. It was really easy for me for 20 years to not ask my mom about my father. But when you’re 20 and you’re kind of coming of age and you’re going through that phase of “Who am I?” it’s important to ask questions.
And I’m a very goal-oriented human. I’ve always been a little bit of a bit of a creative type, so it seemed like a natural outlet to go, “You know, I’m going to use this project as a way of one, working through my own stuff and two, to document it." I now have all of these memories and conversations recorded. But also three, it kind of helped my parents to feel like they could talk to me about it, too.
DTH: How did your family first respond when they heard you were doing this?
SS: My mom and I have a way of freaking out very easily. I knew that the best way to start telling her about it was to ease her into it. I started by telling her little pieces about the project. Eventually, I told her the grander scheme of what this project would turn into and she did freak out. There was a lot of really tense conversations about it because she was really uncomfortable because I think she thought I was going to make this into a tell-all about a relationship she had when she was 22 rather than something about me learning more about him. I think she was just nervous.
Now she is totally into it and has even joked about having her own podcast with family members. She’s like “I love the microphone, let’s do this.” It did take her like six months to get to that point where she was like “I love it, let’s sit down and chat.” But it is a very scary thing sitting down and telling your story to someone and telling them to have at it.
It was mostly my mom that I had to ease into. My stepdad has always been someone who is like, "We’re going to let Samantha do what she wants to do” and everyone else was like, “You’re doing what you want to do and we don’t really care.” It makes sense that my mom was the one to freak out, because it is her story and she was the one who was hurt because it was so personal and low-key traumatic to go through what she went through.
DTH: I hear you were mentioned on NPR for your podcast, which is really amazing. How did that feel? And how does it feel to have such a well-received series already?
SS: I didn’t really expect it. I think going into this sort of thing, you hope that someone will find it and you hope that your hard work will be recognized. But for me it was just personal, and I knew from the get-go that I was doing it for myself and it was helping me more than anything else.
But I went to this conference in November which was a big public radio, storytelling-esque conference and I met a whole slew of people through a scholarship program that I was a part of. That’s how I got connected to Lauren Ober, who has the NPR podcast that I was mentioned on and interviewed on. It really just happened by going to random conferences and learning more about this industry that I was working my way through. People just ended up emailing me. I’m still feeling like just a recent alum who made a podcast one day, and it still just feels like me making this podcast in my bedroom in DC.
DTH: How do you think your time at UNC helped you grow and create your podcast?
SS: Oh my god. For me, this would not be a thing without being at UNC. It sounds very cliché. But I got a grant to fund the audio equipment and fund travel, etc. and that happened solely through the UNC creative writing program. They fund one summer project for up to $3,500, and all you do is write out a proposal and a budget and you have to have a clear creative project in mind for your travels that you’ll walk away with. For me, I knew I was interested in going to the reservation, and I didn’t know how to do anything or even write out a proposal.
It took visiting office hours with my creative writing professors, because it is a very creative project, and just sitting down with them, even if I didn’t have those professors that semester. One professor helped me figure out the format, like how it should be a serialized journey through it all and the other one had connections at the reservation. She knew the best hotels and the best way to get there, so that I had a very detailed budget so that it wouldn’t fall apart if and when I got the money. For me, it was solely my professors who helped me feel comfortable pursuing a creative project through this outlet and actually doing this after graduating rather than jumping right into an internship or a reporting job in a big city. UNC helped me in so many different ways, and we could probably talk about it for hours.
DTH: Why do you think it’s important for college kids, specifically at UNC but in general, too, to listen to your series?
SS: I think for me, what I’m asking and what I’m doing don’t translate in the same exact way. Not everyone has an estranged dad who passed away when they’re a junior and they didn’t know anything about them, but they have more emotions about it than they thought. But maybe they’re also grieving. Maybe they’re also having a really tough time confronting family members about whatever they can’t confront them about or talk to them about.
I think that, especially when you’re in college, it’s such a transformative time, and I think that listening to me as someone who literally started this as a junior at UNC and how I went through this would help. I would hope it could help people who feel that same sort of struggle with anyone to just ask questions and talk when and if they’re ever ready to.