By Samantha Spoto
In a city of over eight million people, a sense of disconnect may seem ever-present at times. Yet Brandon Doman has managed to bring a community of New York City’s strangers closer together with just two items: pen and paper.
Downtown, in Washington Square Park, Doman stands behind a small table lined with clipboards and blank sheets of paper. The only indication of his reason for doing so: a sign inviting passersby to share a story.
These collected stories comprise The Strangers Project, an undertaking that Doman started impulsively in 2009. On the day the project began, Doman sat outside a coffee shop in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the city where he had recently moved after completing his undergrad degree at Central Michigan University. As he enjoyed his beverage on the city’s street, he reached into his backpack for a Sharpie and a notebook in the hope that others would write down a brief anecdote.
Doman tells BTR that he did not know whether writers would participate. However, he instantly learned of strangers’ willingness to share. After he read the initial submissions, Doman became fascinated and decided to keep collecting.
Sharing a personal story has proven to be a vulnerable experience for many. Doman explains that a number of people express hesitancy in partaking in The Strangers Project. Yet this hesitancy has challenged Doman to create a welcoming and inclusive space for all. In noticing individuals’ inhibitions, Doman recognized the importance of storytelling.
“We all do have stories to share, and that can be really rewarding when we choose to share them.”
Doman has collected stories in nearly 35 cities. He explains that many readers may project a sense of place on a story, but what he finds remarkable is the connectivity that develops despite the distance.
“The details of the story might be unique, but at the core of it, what we’re really talking about stays consistent.”
Perhaps the anonymity and spontaneity of the project lure some participants to the blank, white sheets. For others, it may be enticing to partake in the dwindling practice of taking pen to paper and allowing a stream of words to flow. Doman admits these reasons drive strangers to his table, but comments on another important explanation:
“[Strangers] are being asked to share something about their life. They might not feel like they have that opportunity elsewhere.”
Doman recently released What’s Your Story?, a collection of 200 stories from the nearly 15,000 that have been shared with him since the inception of this literary venture. He intends to keep growing The Strangers Project.
“This has always been very organic. I didn’t have a plan when I first started and that’s been consistent throughout the growth of [the project],” Doman shares. “I want to continue creating a space for people to share their stories.”
All photos courtesy of Brandon Doman.