Rebecca Sheir ’99

Maksymilian Nosevich

You might know the stories Cinderella and Jack and the Beanstalk, but what about the Turkish tale of The Unwelcome Guest? For author and producer Rebecca Sheir ’99, the more obscure the story, the better. Sheir and her husband, composer Eric Shimelonis, co-produce Circle Round — a children’s storytelling podcast distributed by WBUR, Boston’s NPR station — which turns folktales from around the world into radio plays. “I’m constantly trying to find stories that aren’t as well known outside of their home country or culture,” says Sheir. “You’re not going to hear The Three Little Pigs or Little Red Riding Hood on Circle Round; you’re going to hear a Nigerian fable about where thunder and lightning come from, or a Korean story about why dogs and cats don’t get along.”

Sheir was a host and reporter at a number of NPR member stations before she and her husband decided to move to Western Massachusetts to start an audio production company. In 2016, WBUR reached out to her about starting a kid-focused podcast; Sheir then came up with the idea to retell folktales as old-fashioned radio plays. She created a pilot featuring a Yiddish story she’d heard as a child from her rabbi (Seinfeld’s Jason Alexander voiced the lead). WBUR loved the pitch; the series officially launched in 2017 and is now in its sixth season with more than 180 episodes.

Sheir focuses on finding a breadth of stories — recent episodes have highlighted tales from Armenia, Finland and the Cherokee Nation — and in 2022 she partnered with a Massachusetts publishing company to produce books based on some of her favorite episodes. The first book was released last summer and two more quickly followed; the fourth will be released this year.

— Anne-Ryan Sirju JRN’09