Between Joy and Suffering: How a first radio story came to life
A bicultural producer discovers a familiar narrative and faces unexpected challenges in her first public radio story.
In just six days, Transom’s first Traveling Workshop in Seattle transformed an international cohort of 10 aspiring creatives into radio producers. The intensive week-long course was led by public radio whisperer Rob Rosenthal, with KUOW producer Whitney Henry-Lester assisting.
As a first-time radio producer, the process posed a few unexpected challenges. We asked her about her experience.
Between Joy and Suffering: A Conversation with Musical Misfit Joe Kye
KUOW: How did you meet Joe Kye and why did you choose to interview him?
Leong: I saw Joe perform at TEDxSeattle last fall and I knew before his performance was over that I wanted to interview him. I emailed him shortly after the event.
Joe’s talent as a musician is evident in all of his performances as he moves seamlessly from classical violin, to hip hop, to acapella, to jazz, all while using a looping pedal to layer tracks live on stage. However, it was the stories Joe told between his songs about growing up as an immigrant in Seattle, that really struck me.
Like Joe, I am also bicultural. When I was in third grade, I moved with my family from Hawaii to Washington. This was about the same age that Joe was when his family migrated to the States from South Korea. I was eager to connect with Joe and get a glimpse into how someone else is navigating the complexities of belonging to two places that never quite claim you as one of their own.
KUOW: What were the challenges?
Leong: The workshop’s intensive pace was challenging, but for me the real pressure came from feeling like I was tasked with telling a story I really needed to hear.
During our interview, so many of Joe’s reflections and anecdotes spoke to me profoundly—as a bicultural person, as a former teacher, and as the child of an Asian parent who left the only home they ever knew with the hopes of a better life for me and my sister.
Because I felt so close to Joe’s story, it was really important to me to not just produce an accurate, three-dimensional picture of his perspective, but also to create something that might connect to a listener who feels like their identity is a work-in-progress, too.
If I had chosen to interview someone with an experience that didn't feel so familiar to me, I still would have hoped for those same outcomes. However, it probably would have been easier to produce the final piece if I had more distance from the themes of the story.
KUOW: What were the highlights?
Leong: We don’t hear many Asian voices in the mainstream media in general, and we definitely don’t hear many conversations about bicultural experiences in particular, so to have the opportunity to tell Joe’s story was deeply meaningful to me. Plus, Joe is such a generous, funny and original storyteller. I couldn’t have asked for a better interviewee for my first radio piece.
Rob and Whitney were also such great mentors and editors. The whole week felt like a team effort and it was such an affirming way to explore a personal topic and try a new creative medium at the same time. I feel very grateful for the whole experience.
KUOW: What do you hope listeners will take away from this story?
Leong: At the end of the piece, Joe beautifully describes the power of reveling in the space between joy and suffering with his audiences through his music. I hope this story becomes part of that in-between space—something that feels like empathy between me, Joe, and any listener who has ever felt like a misfit too.
You can hear all ten of the stories produced at Transom’s winter 2019 Traveling Workshop in Seattle and learn more about the producers here.