Cap’s Off to You!-Wanna Zinsmaster (Posthumously) and Celebrating Story

Featuring: Wanna Zinsmaster

Glitter Queen, Active in Heart & Body, Storyteller

I learned a bit a glitter can go a long way when thinking of Wanna Zinsmaster. I saw her at the National Storytelling Conferences, though never had the chance to truly connect or work together in projects. Yet, Wanna was an active one in teaching creative dramatics for 30+ years at the California State University Los Angeles in the School of Education. Here I lived in Fresno and only about 3 1/2 hours away. Learning that Wanna passed on lingered in my mind. I did not know enough about her. I reached out and learned more fun sides of Wanna.

Karen Golden told me that Wanna always wanted a baby grand piano. One day, she got it. Wanna never had age get in the way and pursued what she dreamed about. She played that piano and danced those fingers as much as she danced about in her apartment. When someone would knock on that door, she often danced to the door. She danced to the very end…though what is really “the end”? I am positive Wanna is dancing right now. With glitter. No matter the story told, she loved putting glitter on her face and sparkling for the whole world.

Debra Olson-Tolar noticed that Wanna was either Vegetarian or Vegan “for forever.” She watched as Wanna brought Tupperware of foods so she was “eating correctly” at the National Storytelling Conferences. Beyond that, Debra remembered that one of the last times she performed with Wanna. As Wanna served in the Navy during World War II, she still had her jacket. Despite many decades later, the jacket fit while Wanna told the story for the audience. Debra reflected, “Wanna has the most beautiful smile ever.”

While searching for more about Wanna, her website no longer was active. She passed on in her sleep on Christmas Day of 2020. Though, thanks to some sleuthing, I did find cache pictures of her website back from 2017 (clickable, too). There, I found a quote. As Wanna puts it, “My stories are not only for entertainment, but perhaps more importantly, to encourage listeners to live their lives with zest, confidence, understanding and gratitude.”

“Zest” is the right word.

I scoured the Internet to see a video or some audio to celebrate this zest of Wanna. Nothing. Well, almost nothing. I found Wanna’s YouTube Channel, but it was not of storytelling. It was of Wanna as an 88-year-old taking a run in a park. At the end, she hugged a tree. The person filming it noted her love of trees. She quickly agreed. I then remembered all the pictures of trees featured on her website. She loved to exercise and hike and be in nature.

Do you know of any video or audio that features Wanna? Perhaps she performed with storytellers, thus making it harder to discover? Can you help?

I did find an article in the LA Times that quoted many people though had some decent space for Wanna. It featured the 13th National Storytelling Festival (at the time of this blog post, NSF is about to have its 49th on October 1-2, 2021). Keep in mind, she said it was her THIRD time attending the National Storytelling Festival…after only 13 years in existence! She traveled from California to Tennessee. Her personality definitely comes through in the section of the article called “Spoke in Thick Brogue.”

On Facebook, Michael D McCarty said that Wanna hosted Doug Lipman’s coaching sessions in her home where others joined her in the learning. Later on, when Wanna “retired” (not sure what that means yet, but I am positive not the typical kind), she gave much of her “extensive storytelling library that took [him] 5 or 6 trips.”

Through more Internet searching, I discovered that quite often were Friday evenings called “Stories of Spirit” that involved storytellers Wanna Zinsmaster, Debra Olson Tolar, Nick Smith, Leslie Perry and Bill Howard. These were held at the San Gabriel Valley Red Cross Headquarters in Pasadena. These tellers were part of the Community Storytellers that still meets to this day – whether in-person or virtual. One of the founders of Community Storytellers was Kathleen Zundell. When Kathleen passed in 2009, the storytellers there named an award after here and presented it to four recipients in 2010. Wanna Zinsmaster was one of these recipients. She was the LA committee member and one of the recipients and presented by Michael D. McCarty during the opening ceremonies.

Do you know a Story Artist who has passed on and want others to remember them? Memories? Pictures? You can submit names and memories of Story Artists who have passed on through our online form. 

I appreciate Wanna Zinsmaster for her delight in life and being herself on and off stage. I look forward to getting to know her better some day when I, too, cross that veil.

Wanna still has a story.  You have a story.  We all have stories.

Cap’s Off to You!-Arthuretta Holmes Martin (Posthumously) and Celebrating Story

Featuring: Arthuretta Holmes Martin

Heart-Felt Activist, Singer of Life & Beyond, Storyteller

I barely got to know Arthuretta Holmes Martin. I heard one story, and I wanted to hear them all. Due to events being virtual, the blessing came to enjoy her wisdom. And, oh what wisdom and insights! From the Maryland Humanities and onward to the Women’s Storytelling Festival, I soaked it in. I felt like I had a hint of what so many people already knew about her.

Every story revealed more of her history and view of life. True, the story could be about a great-great niece or other fascinating and important pieces of history. Then, she could surprise you with a personal workplace experience and end with a challenge to the audience.

When she passed away on July 3, 2021 due to complications of COVID, my heart reached out to the community and global audiences and especially for her family. She was only 63 years old.

Sometimes we learn more about people after they pass on than during this lifetime. I discovered that Arthuretta had a long-time fasciation with being a leader and studied Public Administration being inspired by Shirley Chisholm. Arthuretta served over 30 years for the federal government. Arthuretta noticed causes that needed to be seen. She had the skill of acting as well as speech. She participated in Toastmasters International.

She delved into history and enjoyed finding out the meaning behind words and phrases. In one of her stories, she featured a song by John Jacob Niles called “The Lass from the Low Countree.” While “lass” usually means “girl” from Irish backgrounds, in the 1700s and 1800s, “lass” meant someone of mixed race. Arthuretta then told the story of her great-great niece named Alma.

But are these facts or observations really enough to know Arthuretta? No.

I cannot do justice to her memory. I was inspired by the odes and memorials that Jessica Robinson from Better Said Than Done did on behalf of Arthuretta, and that included compiling a playlist on YouTube. Experience her stories – they can tell more than the short space in an obituary.

Including and going beyond that compiled playlist, here are some sites and videos featuring Arthuretta Holmes Martin:

Playlist compiled by Jessica Robinson/Better Said Than Done – https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLzBjLilCk9wJGGggAmR4X-Btid4slC6E1

Obituary – https://everloved.com/life-of/arthuretta-holmes-martin/

Blowing the Whistle while Black | Arthuretta Holmes Martin | TEDxWilmingtonSalon – https://youtu.be/J-30hHT6Xrw

Chautauqua 2020: Q&A with Arthuretta Holmes Martin – https://youtu.be/7SXwWS41Y9I

Arthuretta Holmes Martin’s website – https://www.arthurettaspeaks.com/

Integration’s Unintended Legacy | Arthuretta Holmes Martin at CURE’s 400 Years of Storytelling Event – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pWAnwJS6QeU

Jubilee Voices: Stories of the Underground Railroad (Sandy Spring Slave Museum) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TUQKtyv48Mw

Do you know a Story Artist who has passed on and want others to remember them? Memories? Pictures? You can submit names and memories of Story Artists who have passed on through our online form. 

I appreciate Arthuretta Holmes Martin for her constant searching for knowledge and then sharing with others. She always gives out a challenge – and this is the time to respond if you have not done so already by the wisdom she has shared.

Arthuretta still has a story.  You have a story.  We all have stories.

Cap’s Off to You!-Diane Wolkstein (Posthumously) and Celebrating Story

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.

She published many books, of which you can find them by clicking here.

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

Do you know a Story Artist who has passed on and want others to remember them? Memories? Pictures? You can submit names and memories of Story Artists who have passed on through our online form. 

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.

Cap’s Off to You!-Ray Hicks (Posthumously) and Celebrating Story

Featuring:  Ray Hicks

Traditional Teller, Gentle Giant, Storyteller

Ray Hicks is unforgettable. Back in 2000, I got to hear him tell at the National Storytelling Festival. The tent was full so the front rows could not be taken. I could stand back and watch him and the rest of the audience. I had read so much about him, and I was witnessing a great heritage-keeper. He loomed over the stage, and even curved over a bit towards the audience – never seeming to stand straight up. His eyes gleamed as if to acknowledge the audience before him while simultaneously having a slight far-off look into that Appalachian Jack Tale world. As he spoke, his accent made it difficult to distinguish certain words. The more he spoke, the more I got used to his rhythm and speech patterns. In a couple minutes, I understood what he was saying and could follow along for the rest of the concert.

Many people have similar memories of Ray Hicks.

Ray Hicks was born Lenard Ray Hicks…but “Ray” came more natural so say. He lived on Beech Mountain in North Carolina. He was discovered as this amazing traditional teller and told at the first National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee. Working with a microphone was quite foreign compared to telling tales on the front porch. Yet, by the next festival – as he told at every National Storytelling Festival until he passed on – he had a handle of that microphone.

By 1983, Ray Hicks received National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. As you can guess, that is the highest honor for traditional arts in the United States.

Ray wasn’t the only storyteller in his family. In fact, he was the eighth generation storyteller. Being that he was the fourth of 11 children, can you imagine the tale swapping between all of them?

From 1951 to 2003, Ray lived upon the earth and gathered up Jack tales and hunting stories passed on from person to person. While working the land as a farmer or a mechanic, Ray got by though nothing gave him more pleasure than telling those Southern Jack tales. It felt like Ray had met this Jack at one time.

Others have many more memories of actually traveling to his homestead in the mountains.

Sadly, a fire took that home and the surrounding outbuildings on May 25, 2021. Click here to see that article.

Do you have memories of him? Need to get to know him?

Here are some sites, videos, or articles featuring Ray Hicks:

http://www.rayhicks.com – a most amazing tribute to Ray Hicks complete with videos, audio, and memories (and you can still submit memories)

New York Times article when Ray Hicks passed – https://www.nytimes.com/2003/04/27/nyregion/ray-hicks-who-told-yarns-older-than-america-dies-at-80.html

Essay – Ray Hicks: The Mysterious Healer – https://muse.jhu.edu/article/434565/pdf

Los Angeles Times article when Ray Hicks passed – https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2003-apr-27-me-hicks27-story.html

Ray Hicks, from Local Storyteller to Cultural Icon: A Bibliography – https://www.jstor.org/stable/40934979?seq=1

The Giant Storyteller: Ray Hicks Tales Bore the Unmistakable Twang and Sensibilities of Early Appalachia –https://wncmagazine.com/feature/giant_storyteller

Do you know a Story Artist who has passed on and want others to remember them? Memories? Pictures? You can submit names and memories of Story Artists who have passed on through our online form. 

I appreciate Ray Hicks for his opening of his home, porch, kitchen table, all the way to the stage to hear those fantastic Jack tales and family stories of from Appalachia. Thank you, Ray.

Ray still has a story.  You have a story.  We all have stories.

Cap’s Off to You!-Kevin Brooks (Posthumously) and Celebrating Story

Featuring:  Kevin Brooks

Giver of Time, Tech Guru, Storyteller

Kevin Brooks helped anyone who needed it. He was one of the “sons” of Brother Blue – the same who would yell from the audience, “That’s my son!” As Kevin did not have a father growing up, Brother Blue filled in that spot. I had known the name “Kevin Brooks” but wished for my family to understand Kevin better. When both Kevin Brooks and Brother Blue were to be honored as part of the Sacred Storytelling put on by the Artists Standing Strong Together, I hooked up the laptop to the TV screen so that my kids could watch with me. When “Tomato Paste” was shared, my six-year-old daughter threw back her head with the most lovely laugh. She kept laughing throughout the whole piece. This pure delight was already a gift that Kevin Brooks gave my family.

Kevin knew how to tell stories to entertain and then have that deeper message. A moving piece is “Clearing the Pool” about how some black people could not swim and many drownings caused Kevin’s mom to insist on her family taking a swimsuit everywhere. Though, something else happened as a result. In the Playlist on YouTube featuring Kevin, you can find out the rest. Powerful…and under five minutes long.

Five minutes. Ten minutes. Thirty minutes. Besides the stories he told, he dedicated much time to people. Forget five minutes. Often, Kevin gave his whole day to people. As Kevin was known as a tech guru, he introduced many storytellers to how to use emails or websites or the importance of videotaping stories. Tony Toledo shared that one day his ex-wife, who was Deaf, needed help in filming. Kevin stayed all morning and would not accept payment. When Tony and his ex-wife insisted, he would only take a breakfast.

Joey Talbert, a great fiend of Kevin, had long conversations and heard some of those “nuggets” of his stories – like “Tomato Paste” – and hear them developed into signature pieces. The two of them did adaptive and personal storytelling with City Rain Player that still is talked about to this day.

When Kevin Brooks was with Laura Packer, they connected through Brother Blue and particularly the basement bookstore where Brother Blue held a safe space for people to tell stories. When it came Christmas time, a party was held and it was nicknamed “Kevin and the Jews” and “Diversity Challah” was served. Kevin and Laura would cut up and share the bread and Brother Blue gave the blessing. They invited everyone no matter if there was room in the intended space or not. Several times, the space had to be changed to accommodate the droves of people.

When Brother Blue passed on in November 2009, the Story Space that was held in-person and created by him, had to be continued. Kevin and Laura quickly volunteered to take it on before the Board for Story Space took it over from there.

And when things calmed down, Kevin was the kind of person who loved eating outside on hot summer days. He and Laura.

Then cancer came. Laura was by Kevin’s side. And then…sadness.

We can take comfort is so much that Kevin still has given us. Laura was kind enough to maintain Kevin’s blog to be active. Then MIT has a webpage for him.

Yet, what was obvious on Sunday, April 25, 2021 is that many people still honor this fantastic and inspiring person.

Do you have memories of him? Need to get to know him?

Laura Packer was kind to share pictures seen here as well as this ode to him:

Kevin Michael Brooks, Ph.D. passed away on March 28, 2014 in Kansas City Missouri, surrounded by friends and family.

Kevin came to storytelling almost 20 years ago. He became a member of Brother Blue’s storytelling circle and then incorporated storytelling into every facet of his life. This included his dissertation work at MIT and all of his subsequent employment.

He was a man who adored his children, Stephan, Cara, Kristoff and Vered Brooks. He was a dedicated partner, problem-solver, lover and supporter to his wife, Laura Packer. He was a son who made his mother, Carolyn Brooks, proud every day. He was a reliable and loving friend to many. He was a generous and creative co-worker at Hallmark Cards. And his stories made his audiences laugh, cry and rejoice in the world.

Kevin’s warm and welcoming storytelling performances chronicled the life of an African American boy as he grew to manhood and became a father, a swim teacher, a friend. His stories often featured his mother and his children. His work as a story coach helped many others deepen their own storytelling work.

Kevin will be deeply missed by all who knew him. His spirit lives on in all of us, every time we listen deeply, hug a friend, hold our spouse’s hand and look about ourselves with curiosity.

Here are some sites, videos, or writings of Kevin Brooks:

Dedication to him – https://makezine.com/2014/06/28/the-eternal-story-of-kevin-brooks-making-an-impact/

Another Dedication – https://kimpearson.net/kevin-michael-brooks-technology-storyteller/

His blog – http://wordsaboutwater.blogspot.com

His site saved by MIT – http://alumni.media.mit.edu/~brooks/ and from MIT Technology about him – https://www.technologyreview.com/2011/08/23/192163/the-storyteller/

Playlist on YouTube – 10 videos featuring Kevin Brooks – https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLcnH1tNxXZ4–LHox9ishDi_ZcHxNl2Lx

“Tomato Paste” told by Kevin Brooks – https://youtu.be/FoizIQaRiBA

Do you know a Story Artist who has passed on and want others to remember them? Memories? Pictures? You can submit names and memories of Story Artists who have passed on through our online form. 

I appreciate Kevin Brooks for his generosity and his ability to find the most meaningful insights from everyday life. Thank you, Kevin.

Kevin still has a story.  You have a story.  We all have stories.