The Library of Congress Acquires Full Collection from The Kitchen Sisters, the Pioneering Radio and Podcast Producers Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva
The Kitchen Sisters chronicle untold stories of culture and tradition across a vast American soundscape
For over 40 years, independent audio documentary producers Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva — The Kitchen Sisters — have chronicled the lives, celebrations and struggles of people from all walks of life, weaving together a rich tapestry of America’s cultural heritage. Announced today, the Library of Congress, the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution offering access to the creative record of the United States, is acquiring the Kitchen Sisters’ full body of work.
The Kitchen Sisters have been honored with two Peabody Awards, a duPont-Columbia Award, two James Beard Awards and more. Their sound-rich audio documentaries on overlooked histories and little-known communities include many series and collaborations heard on NPR: “Hidden Kitchens” — how communities come together through food; “Lost & Found Sound” — 20th century life and the people who shaped the sonic landscape of the nation; “The Hidden World of Girls” — stories of coming of age, rituals and rites of passage, women who blazed a trail; “The Sonic Memorial Project” — a 9/11 memorial built in sound to the World Trade Center and its surrounding neighborhood; and, “The Keepers” — stories of activist archivists, rogue librarians and keepers of the America’s complicated cultural heritage. The Kitchen Sisters produced “Lost & Found Sound,” “The Sonic Memorial Project” and “Hidden Kitchens” in collaboration with award-winning independent producer Jay Allison. Hosts of their NPR and PRX specials have included actresses Frances McDormand, Alfre Woodard and Tina Fey, musician Willie Nelson, and filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola.
Their podcast “The Kitchen Sisters Present” — part of the Radiotopia podcast network from PRX — amplifies the voices of people rarely chronicled. In addition, their major national collaborations have been aired nationally and internationally on NPR, PRX, the BBC, the CBC, Australian Broadcasting Corporation and more.
The American Folklife Center (AFC) at the Library of Congress, highlighting the creativity and cultural traditions of communities throughout the United States and the world, will house and preserve The Kitchen Sisters’ archive in perpetuity. It will include approximately 146,400 mixed material items from the 1970s to the present, and will also include more than 7,000 hours of interviews, oral histories, stories, field recordings and archival audio. The archive will also include photographs, production notebooks and hand-written journals.
“The Kitchen Sisters have enlightened audiences for decades, unearthing stories about people and cultural traditions across the globe,” said Elizabeth Peterson, Director of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. “You learn about the impact of internment on Japanese American cooking, about the first all-girl radio station in the nation in Memphis, about the George Foreman Grill as a hidden kitchen for unhoused people, stories from their national 9/11 collaboration The Sonic Memorial Project, about the mythic Route 66, about keepers of the nation’s culture and the ways immigrant communities shape the American soundscape. The Library of Congress is thrilled to receive this outstanding body of work.”
The Kitchen Sisters Archive will reside with such notable collections and historic holdings in The Library of Congress as The Alan Lomax Collection, The Studs Terkel Collection, various recordings, plays and manuscripts of Zora Neale Hurston, The AIDS Memorial Quilt Archive, The Rosa Parks Papers, the Susan B. Anthony Papers and The Emancipation Proclamation.
Trailblazing broadcasters who began their work in 1979, Nelson and Silva have developed an intricate marriage of radio journalism and dynamic storytelling, helping to usher in today’s era of immersive audio storytelling and podcasting. For many of their series, The Kitchen Sisters opened up phone lines, inviting people to call in and share their stories. Hundreds of these first-person messages are also included in the materials Nelson and Silva have entrusted to the Library of Congress as the conduit for preserving their stories for future generations of journalists, activists, students and audio storytellers.
“We’re so moved that our archive is going to The Library of Congress, one of the great keepers of the complicated history of the nation,” said Davia Nelson of The Kitchen Sisters. “This brings things full circle for us. We’ve drawn on materials from the Library since the earliest days of our work in order to build stories that bring little-known cultures and experiences alive for listeners. Now, we can make our hundreds of interviews and recordings available to the public and say, ‘Listen, see if these can enrich your classroom, your project, your book, your documentary, or your podcast.’ We’re inspired by Gloria Steinem’s words, that ‘empathy is the most radical of human emotions.’ That is one of our high hopes for this archive, that it urges us to listen to one another more closely and connect to one another’s experiences more deeply.”
“Being part of the public media community for decades, our mission has always been one of public storytelling, engagement, and access,” said Nikki Silva of The Kitchen Sisters. “We’re proud to be part of the Library of Congress’ legacy. So much of our work has been in collaboration with other independent producers, documentary makers, artists, grandmothers, NPR, PRX and others. Our deep thanks to all our partners and collaborators over the decades, especially Transom founder Jay Allison and to our listeners.”
The Kitchen Sisters continue to produce radio stories, podcasts and other multimedia collaborations. They intend to donate these additional materials to The Library of Congress as well.
The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library, offering access to the creative record of the United States — and extensive materials from around the world — both on-site and online. It is the main research arm of the U.S. Congress and the home of the U.S. Copyright Office. Explore collections, reference services and other programs and plan a visit at loc.gov; access the official site for U.S. federal legislative information at congress.gov; and register creative works of authorship at copyright.gov.