Kitchen Sisters 220

The Kitchen Sisters, otherwise known as Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva, have been producing radio shows and podcasts for more than four decades. Their archive of material, including more than 7,000 hours of audio from their public radio show and podcasts, has been acquired by the Library of Congress. The Kitchen Sisters archive also includes approximately 146,400 mixed material items from the 1970s to 2020, such as photos, handwritten journals, and storybooks.

The national library will receive the large archive of audio, photos and manuscripts — many already digitized — in three installments over the next two to three years. The public can access the stories now through The Kitchen Sisters Present… website and podcast. The digital collection will eventually be accessible through the Library.

The American Folklife Center, which will house and preserve The Kitchen Sisters archives, has been collecting documentation since 1976 that highlights the creativity and cultural traditions of communities throughout the U.S. and the world. Known for their pioneering approach to storytelling, Nelson and Silva’s award-winning public radio programs have often featured the voices of people rarely covered in the news media. Their work is featured on NPR, PRX, the BBC, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Australian Broadcasting Corporation, as well as at international festivals, and in live and multimedia performances.

“The Library of Congress is thrilled to receive this outstanding body of work,” said Elizabeth Peterson, director of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. “The Kitchen Sisters have enlightened audiences for decades, unearthing unique stories about people and cultural traditions across the globe. You learn about the impact of internment on Japanese American cooking, stories about the mythic Route 66, and the ways minority and immigrant communities shape the American soundscape.”

For Nelson and Silva, having the collection at the Library of Congress is like coming full circle, since their early work to capture cultural and political movements often brought them from California to the nation’s capital to do research at the Library.

“We are very moved that our archive is going to the Library of Congress because we are saying to the public ‘here’s all this material we have gathered across decades… see if it enriches your classroom, your project, your book, your story, your podcast,” Nelson said in a statement. “Being part of the public media community for decades, our mission has always been one of public storytelling, collaboration and access.”

Silva added that much of their work has been in collaboration with other independent producers, documentary makers, artists, grandmothers, NPR, PRX and others. Just as family conversations often begin and end in the kitchen, she said they wanted their programs to trigger dialogues in American homes around important issues of the day. And, as a universal language, food can be a pathway to those conversations, according to Silva.

Inspired by two eccentric brothers, Kenneth and Raymond Kitchen, who worked as stonemasons in Santa Cruz, California, in the 1940s, Nelson and Silva named themselves The Kitchen Sisters because, they explain, although lacking a bloodline they share a sisterhood bound by a passion for poignant storytelling.

For both women, it is nearly impossible to pin down a favorite story among the thousands of hours of interviews with people of every race and ethnicity and oral histories and field recordings from nearly every state in the nation. Three of their series, “Lost & Found Sound,” “Sonic Memorial Project,” and “Hidden Kitchens,” were produced in collaboration with award-winning radio producer Jay Allison. Their immersive style has been replicated by podcasters all over, with stories largely narrated by the interviewees.