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Beginnings: The Breakthrough Moment

Starlee Kine, Storyteller

"I had to figure out a way for this to become my life."

I went to NYU, and I didn’t like it. I was there for dramatic writing, like screenwriting and playwriting. And basically I kind of stopped going to school, like essentially. Like I was in school, I didn’t quite realize I could change schools, I didn’t realize I could just like unenroll. So I was still enrolled and technically going to school but I was also working at Shakespeare & Company, the bookstore right across from NYU.

I lived in the East Village, in that building that is now the building left standing after the fire that happened in the East Village. I made a documentary about a neighbor who lived next door to me, this old lady who was Ukrainian, and she was really old and she was certain that I was a drug kingpin. And I’d have barbecues on my roof and people would come over and I’d show them the video, and then you could go in the hallway and her apartment was right next to my apartment, so — it was like a little square where there were four apartments facing each other. And after watching the video, they could go in the hallway and she would open her door and shine a flashlight at them like an amusement-park ride. It was very consistent. She was completely obsessed with me. So without fail, after a certain hour, you could stand in the hallway and she would open the door and close the door and shine the flashlight at you, really like an animatron.

One of the people I worked with at the bookstore told someone who was one of the first “This American Life” like kind of contributing producers about the video. Paul Tough. “This American Life” was just starting. It was on for like a year and a half at that point. And it wasn’t like journalism — it was journalism but it was about people. Like it was stories. And Paul came over, and as soon as I met him, was like, “This is exactly what I want to do forever, for the rest of my life.”

I remember it very distinctly because and then it was very life-changing. I made all my roommates leave, and I was like, “I just have to be with him.” I had to figure out a way for this to become my life.