Michelle Fishburne is the founder of Who We Are Now, the only COVID-19 oral history project of its kind. Collected primarily in-person during a 12,000 mile RV trek back and forth across the United States between September 2020 and March 2021, Fishburne interviewed more than 300 people in 35+ states. Her question was simple, “It’s January 1, 2020. What was your 2020 supposed to be like and what did it end up being like, through to the present?” The stories she collected present an authentic mosaic of the American experience while the pandemic was still coursing through the country.
Her work as an oral historian and storyteller has been compared to that of Studs Terkel, author of the 1974 classic, “WORKING.” Her journey to figure out “Who We Are Now” has been likened to John Steinbeck’s 10,000 mile trek across America in 1960 in search of “What are Americans like today?” Not only did similar questions undergird Fishburne’s and Steinbeck’s quests, they both did their solo journeys in RVs with their dogs as their companions.
Fishburne’s “Who We Are Now: 100 Stories of What We Lost and Found During the Pandemic” will be published by a university press in 2022. The audio files of the oral histories will be preserved, separately, by Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis's COVID-19 Oral History Project. The public can access many of the stories through Who We Are Now’s website, whowearenow.us.
Prior to launching Who We Are Now, Fishburne had a polymathic career that included international law, invention, entrepreneurship, public relations, journalism, education, government, and politics.