Featuring: Diane Wolkstein
Revivalist, Story-Gatherer, & Storyteller
Diane Wolkstein jumped into storytelling as early as the 1960s…and even then I would believe her upbringing and background could put her much earlier in the art. She was a professional storyteller before the National Storytelling Festival existed and was key in collecting stories and creating the foundation of the American Storytelling Movement itself as well as throughout the world. While I never got to meet her in-person or been in an audience, I am grateful to the many articles and videos to understand and celebrate what she has done for the art to this day.
Writing this piece allows me to reminisce as if I had met her. I notice how young she was when she delved into the art. I have seen that passion before. Though, more and more, I realize that this particular passion from Diane was enough to have small and simple things become great.
Luckily, anyone can get an idea of what Diane was like due to the documentary created called “Diane Wolkstein: A Storyteller’s Story” that came out in 2007 (she passed on in 2013).
From 1968-1971, Diane Wolkstein was New York City’s official storyteller. Yet, with or without that title, she constantly worked on building storytelling organizations and projects including the Storytelling Center of New York City. She established the tradition of Saturday morning storytelling at the foot of the Hans Christian Andersen in Central Park. She would be pleased that this continued even during 2020 and 2021 with virtual performances instead of pausing when in-person events were more possible. For over 60 years, this Hans Christian Andersen event has taken place.
She traveled the world. How can I even list them all? Everywhere she went, stories were gathered. China, Africa, and Haiti – and the list seems endless.
My favorite of her books, and considered a classic throughout the storytelling world, is “The Magic Orange Tree, and other Haitian folktales.”
During one of the Story Crossroads Discord chats, we honored different tradition bearers. Diane Wolkstein name was one of the first mentioned with more than one person sharing moments with her. I admit…I was a little jealous for these people to have such interactions. Though, I look forward to chatting with Diane after my time on earth is done and my next adventures starts.
Marc Young shared that during the last 5-6 years of her life, Diane focused on researching “The Monkey King.” He was delighted and giddy “as if talking with the Queen of England” when she asked him to perform at the Hans Christian Andersen statue. Though, it ended up that someone else had to tell and she promised him they would tell again. That was in September 2012. When she traveled to Taiwan to study “The Monkey King” in December 2012. Then word spread around the world that she has passed on there in 2013. That performance with Diane will need to be much later than planned…in the heavens.
Here are some sites, videos, or articles featuring Diane Wolkstein:
Diane performing “The Magic Orange Tree”- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-YfZg6Tgpr8
Library of Congress – Diane Wolkstein Collection- https://catalog.loc.gov/vwebv/holdingsInfo?&bibId=19275563&searchId=23256&recPointer=15&recCount=25
New York Times article when Diane Wolkstein passed-https://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/04/nyregion/diane-wolkstein-author-who-sparked-a-storytelling-revival-dies-at-70.html
Diane Wolkstein and Stories From Many Lands, published by NYPR Archives & Preservation- https://www.wnyc.org/story/diane-wolkstein-and-stories-many-lands/
“The Storytelling Magazine” published by the National Storytelling Network honored her when she passed – June/July 2013
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I appreciate Diane Wolkstein for her constant researcher and always wanting to go to the direct source for stories around the world. I have read so many of her books and still need to discover more of her adventures and learn from them.
Diane still has a story. You have a story. We all have stories.