Davy Rothbart is a writer, contributor to This American Life and filmmaker. But he is probably best known as founder and collector of lost things for FOUND Magazine, a publication made of "anything that people have found."
He told me about the beginnings of his magazine, how South Florida has been featured in it and what it has taught him. Hear our full interview here:
Sayre: For people who don’t know what FOUND Magazine is, what’s your elevator pitch?
Rothbart: It’s just anything that people have found. Photographs, journal entries, love letters, to do lists, post-it notes. People literally find the stuff and they send it into me from all around the world. So some of it’s hilarious [and] some of it’s heartbreaking. Each find just gives you a little glimpse into another person’s life.
S: How did you start doing this? What got you going?
R: I was living in Chicago and got to my car late at night. On my windshield was a note addressed to Mario. My name is Davy. I pulled the note off and started reading it. It said, “Mario, I hate you. You said you had to work, then why is your car here, at her place? You’re such a liar. I hate you, I hate you. P.S. Page me later?"
And what surprised me was how many of my friends had a great found item to show me in return. And so a magazine just seemed like a natural way for everyone to share what they were finding with everybody else.
I spent a few nights just putting it together with my two cousins and some scissors and tape. I took it to Kinko's to make 50 copies and there was this punk-rock kid working there at 3 in the morning. I remember he started looking through the magazine and he was like, “Whoa! This is awesome. We should make 800 copies.”
I had no idea that it would resonate and that so many other people out there shared my fascination with these little scraps of paper. It’s a bit voyeuristic but I would maintain that a certain degree of voyeurism is healthy. You know it’s natural to be curious what other people's experience of being human is like.
S: So what are some of the things that have come out of South Florida?
R: We seem to get a lot of to-do lists out of South Florida. It’s fertile territory for found notes in general.
This one came from Key West:
“To Do Today:
Turn in library books
Find out about college
Mail dad’s s***
Pay bills in advance
You see, there are only like 20 words in that to-do list but it does give you some sense of who that person might be. But more than anything, it makes you wonder what the story is.
Here’s one that came from the campus of Florida International University:
“My Goals For The Year
- Go to Church. Find God, then find myself through God. Get Baptized.
- Meet new people, party a lot. Start drinking…"
S: There are a lot of interesting dynamics that play out specifically in South Florida. Do you see that reflected in the material that comes out of here?
R: What I am most struck by is how universal the things seem to be that are on people’s minds. We got two found notes the same week: One was written in Connecticut, the other was written by this guy in a small sound in Senegal. Both of the letters were kind of writing to a friend about a sibling that had passed away. Imagine: These two guys who have completely different backgrounds and live in completely different kinds of places but still dealing with this really intense personal situation.
Having the chance to peel back the layers on so many people’s stories and dive so deep into peoples’ emotional cores [had] put me more in touch with my own emotional core and my own stories. Whether they meant to or not, thousands of people have shared their most personal stories with me.
Rothbart is giving a live reading of some of his found notes as well as an assortment of his own essays at the Miami Theater Center in Miami Shores at 7 p.m. Friday April, 18.