The first subject for her WPKN show, “North Fork Works,” on March 7, 2012, was then-Greenport mayor David Nyce, who is also a woodworker and a musician.
In the years since she’s interviewed fishermen and filmmakers, mechanics and writers, beekeepers and boat captains, with a rare inquisitiveness borne out of her unique life experience.
The Beacon caught up with Ms. Kahan last week to discuss what she’s learned about North Forkers over the past five years.
Q: How did North Fork Works come about?
I knew Tony Ernst, a producer at WPKN, who has a show called East End Ink, where he records people talking about poetry, new books, events at Canio’s Books. I wanted to do something similar to Studs Terkel’s idea in his book, “Working.”
We cobbled together a concept of a new thing I was calling North Fork Works. I was thinking in terms of multiples, people who had several faces or identities. David Nyce was a carpenter, a musician and the mayor, so he was a good fit. I went on looking for people who fit those qualifications, which are really ridiculously limiting qualifications. That’s what I’ve done, and suddenly it’s been five years.
Q: Did you have a history of interviewing people?
I never did radio before North Fork Works, except once, on a WPKN assignment, I was in Israel and Palestine and I went into the West Bank. I didn’t have permission to be there, and I had a dinky little recording device that I didn’t know how to use and I came back with nothing. I had my WPKN badge, but I really was clueless.
I came to this country in the 1970s. I was totally clueless. All that I had was a Ph.D. My family was never in business. They were academics. I got a job with a market research company, which was all face-to-face focus groups. That was my career in Manhattan, but I got up one morning in 1999 and said ‘I can’t do this anymore,” and I came to the North Fork. I’ve lived here ever since.
I’ve moved a lot in my life. I’ve lived in many places. I had been here a couple times and I had a friend who was living in Mattituck. I was born in Pakistan and had been to boarding school in the Himalayas, in India, so I knew I didn’t want to be in the mountains, where you can’t see the horizon.
I came here. The second weekend, I found a house, and a friend helped me move. It took a while to realize you cannot keep a house in the country clean. All the time, the dirt comes in, but it’s really not dirt. It’s soil. And there were insects in all the wrong places. But I was conscious of making the decision. Now I can’t even go to Manhattan.
Q: Did you always feel like an outsider?
I’m chronically an outsider, because of the way I’ve lived my life, growing up Jewish in Pakistan. I’m actually more comfortable with that than belonging in any meaningful way to a group. I was living in Australia, where I got my Ph.D. during the Vietnam War, where we were really Vietnam activists and there were some Marxists. They would say to us that ‘you’re not reliable on the subject of Israel and Palestine because you’re Jewish.’ That was very upsetting. We thought we were very committed socialists. Then we moved to Israel and got involved with the left in Israel and they said, ‘you won’t really understand because you weren’t born here.’
I’m fascinated by people who were born and raised here, and how they see what I see. I sometimes feel that my North Fork native friends might resent my doing this work. I’m kind of like an intruder, a bit.
I want to have more of a relationship with the Latino community, but I feel that people don’t want to be seen or known. I don’t speak Spanish, and I don’t want to be like a colonist, but they’re a third of the population in Greenport.
I just reran my program interviewing Dinni Gordon, author of “Village of Immigrants,” about Greenport. I thought that was just such an important book, and it’s a good time to run it, in part because of the broad things that are happening in government now.
I guess I always feel fascinated by people who’ve grown up in a relatively small area. I’m interested in people who don’t really assimilate. It’s interesting how strong the identities of these places are. It’s not really part of globalization. Even though there’s an influx of outsiders, it’s not really like Manhattan either.
North Fork Works airs on the first Wednesday of every month at 7:30 p.m. at 89.5 FM WPKN. You can listen to podcasts of recent North Fork Works sessions, including sessions with Southold Anti-Bias Task Force Member Eleanor Lingo and boat captain, writer and musician Dave Berson, on her website here.