Photograph: Brigitte Lacombe.

Archive: Jean SteinAnnick Weber chronicles the life of one of New York’s great storytellers.

Archive: Jean SteinAnnick Weber chronicles the life of one of New York’s great storytellers.

“She was able to see milieus that she wouldn’t have seen, had she not had that tape recorder. Essentially, it was a way of getting out of where she was born.”

The first thing that many people noticed about Jean Stein was the tape recorder. Though clunky and somewhat old-fashioned-looking, it served her well on decades’ worth of trips across America, during which she interviewed subjects as varied as the topics she covered. Stein was not an ordinary writer for whom a notepad and pen would likely have sufficed; she was a master of the oral history form, and the tape recorder was essential in fully capturing and collecting her interviewees’ firsthand accounts of modern American life. 

“She found the métier she loved in conducting interviews,” Stein’s daughter, Katrina vanden Heuvel, says, speaking on the phone from New York City. “She seemed quiet and vulnerable with her shy, fluttery voice, but she was fearless with the tape recorder...

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