Ruxandra Guidi has had an impressive global journalism career, focusing on the stories of ordinary people and bringing light to social justice. We are so excited that she is joining us as an instructor at the March retreat. We recently sat down with Ruxandra to help you get to know her before the retreat.
BYC —How did you get into radio and podcasting?
I became interested in writing, journalism and current events during my senior year in college. I took a radio class during my first year of graduate school at UC Berkeley, and that’s when I first met and listened to the Kitchen Sisters’ work, which blew me away. They played “Unfinished Business: Ali vs Frazier VI, Daughters of Destiny,” a 25-minute documentary about the daughters of legendary boxers Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier facing each other in the ring decades after their fathers did. It was the most original piece of sound storytelling I’d ever heard and it hooked me right in.
––Who or what has been your inspiration and influence?
Aside from the Kitchen Sisters, I listened to other long-form radio storytellers from the ‘80s and ‘90s in America, particularly National Public Radio, who would play character-driven documentaries together with the news. I listened to the BBC World Service in Spanish growing up, and have always loved the idea of radio bringing you sounds from different corners of the world, something which is much more accessible than print. Radio is everywhere, and now, with podcasts, the form is having a wonderful renaissance
–You have co-founded Fonografia Collective, you are part of Homeland Productions, you teach at the University of Arizona which is about the transmission of knowledge, did I forget anything?
That’s it. I’m currently teaching at the University of Arizona full-time. I’m also a contributing editor for High Country News magazine, a national magazine about the American West. Over the years, I’ve also worked as a reporter, producer and editor for Latino USA, The World, KPBS in San Diego and KPCC in Los Angeles.
—Can you tell us about Fonografia Collective? What was your inspiration to start this company? Why did you choose the name Fonografia? What does it mean? How did you meet your co-founder?
Fonografia is a word that I came up with together with my partner and longtime collaborator, Bear Guerra. He’s a documentary photographer and I work in long-form storytelling—documentaries, so to speak, in print and in audio. Fifteen years ago when we started working together, we wanted to find a way to have our work complement each other’s, and allow audiences to get a more human, intimate view into people’s stories. Fonografía means “representation of sound by signs” in Spanish; we also liked it as a play on words: “fono” or sound in Spanish and “grafía,” as in fotografía, or writing with light. We’re a collective in that we’ve been putting out all our work into the world together, always seeking new people, artists, and storytellers to work with to challenge us into telling stories in new ways. We met during a road trip to Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico, in 2005, and fell in love with each other, and each other’s work, almost immediately. We’ve been working together since.
–What really strikes me is your holistic approach to radio and podcasting. You talk about culturally-sensitive documentary storytelling. You were born in Caracas, Venezuela and now live in Tucson, Arizona. How has living with two diametrically different cultures and languages influenced your work?
Thank you. I see myself as much more than a Venezuelan living in Tucson. I am an immigrant to the U.S., and that has really shaped my identity and my work. Much of what I do is shaped by telling others what it’s like to be from “elsewhere,” how the ideas we have about other parts of the world are often wrong or one-sided. But I’m also the daughter of immigrants—from Bolivia and Romania. Perhaps that’s why I’ve always been fascinated by geographical borders and why I so love being here in Tucson. The border region has a unique culture of its own and is always on the cutting edge. I found this to be true in the Texas-Coahuila border, in San Diego-Tijuana and now in Tucson-Nogales.
–Do you have a story to share on how your background has impacted your work?
Here’s an essay I wrote some years ago about witnessing a big protest movement in Caracas in the late ‘80s. That really opened my eyes to racial and economic inequality and my own privilege. Much of what I choose to focus on now tries to explain and come to terms with the feelings and observations I had back then.
–Why is collaboration so central to your work?
I’ve always thought collaboration is a no-brainer: Why work alone when you can learn more from your peers by working together? I love the process of seeing things through multiple eyes, of having someone else give me feedback and edit my work, and vice-versa. Also, having a longtime collaborator opens you up to experimenting more, to taking greater risks.
–What do you enjoy the most about your work?
I love the incredible privilege and responsibility I have to talk to strangers, get to know them, and try to explain their worldview and ideas to others. It’s something I don’t take for granted. Getting to indulge my curiosity, meeting new people and getting to inhabit their worlds for a piece is always thrilling to me, time and time again.
–What are you hoping to get from teaching the podcasting retreat in Arizona?
Some years ago I discovered the real benefit of retreats and artist residencies: they give you the time and space to be alone with your thoughts, to put it quite simply. I think that helping people navigate that space as an audio instructor is incredibly rewarding, and it’ll be a great learning opportunity for me too. I’m committed to passing on the skills I do have, to helping others tell their own stories. I can’t think of a better way to do this than in a beautiful, quiet setting.
–This retreat is focused on women who want to learn to podcast to use their voices to amplify their work. Why do you think it is important to provide a safe space for women to learn how to use their voices?
We live in a male-dominated mainstream media world that still doesn’t value stories by and about women, so I think having the space to discuss this and find ways to change it is very important. But also I believe women bring really unique perspectives to storytelling and to podcasting in particular. Podcasting is so intimate and accessible and versatile, and in my mind, it’s a perfect tool for female self-expression.
–Why would you recommend women attend the podcasting retreat?
We’ll create a nurturing environment for different ideas, approaches and perspectives, and we’ll be a small enough group that will allow for a lot of one-on-one mentoring. Audio production itself is not hard to learn, but figuring out how to use it to tell powerful stories and how to develop a unique voice is something that takes time and confidence. My hope is that this retreat will provide the time and tools to learn the basics, and a road map you can follow to share your project with the world.
Thank you so much to Ruxandra. If you haven’t yet signed up to join us, make sure to register today, as our limited spots are filling up!