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.

Cap’s Off to You!-Cathryn Fairlee (Posthumously) and Celebrating Story

Featuring:  Cathryn Fairlee

Epic-Teller, Mentor, Traveler

Cathryn Fairlee was the expert researcher and performer of epic tales complete with singing. I had the privilege of taking a workshop – in-person and front row – and I was floored by what she knew and was willing to share with us. She traveled to the places she told about and always said, “traveling teaches you history and culture.” From Northern Ireland to China to Mexico and many more, she discovered the world through stories.

I wish I had more personal things to say about Cathryn. I was an avid fan from a distance. I treasure that one workshop. I always dreamed of attending the “Going Deep: Long Traditional Stories Retreat.” Stories told had to be at least an hour long and preferred to be longer than that so that people would have beyond a typical storytelling festival experience. Later, there would be a discussion of symbols and motifs and any number of topics focused on that epic tale. Cathryn Fairlee, while not the founder of that event, was still an important part of it. She will always be important for not only what she told but who she welcomed into this world of epic-telling…and being an epic human being.

When she suffered from vascular cerebral dementia for years, she reached out to other storytellers and gave responsibility for those people to honor and continue to tell the epic. The dementia prevented her from recalling or performing, yet she had the foresight to share and mentor younger yet talented artists. In exchange, she learned skills from the younger generation including the talent to use watercolor and oils.

Ever since 2005, Cathryn was responsible for creating Epic Day that was held biannually. In September 2019, about two weeks before she passed on, that particular Epic Day had a song dedicated to her and an album with photos and memories. The July of the same year, she received the International Story Bridge Award through the National Storytelling Network.

I read some of the comments and memories from people, and someone said that for Halloween 2017, she gathered all the neighborhood kids and told ghost stories. Certainly, a special moment for all.

Some articles, odes, sounds or writings of Cathryn Fairlee:

Ode from the Storytellers of Canada – Conteurs du Canada – https://www.storytellers-conteurs.ca/en/news/Passing-Cathryn-Fairlee.html

Why These Tellers Have Storied Careers – newspaper article on Cathryn Fairlee, published June 2003

Storyteller Cathryn Fairlee fuses culture, dynamic characters and folk to create a change – online article on Cathryn Fairlee, published February 2018

You can learn a lot about a culture through its stories: Cathryn Fairlee – published January 31, 2018

Feral Mom, Feral Writer: Story of a Storyteller (Cathryn Fairlee) and A Musician (Stephen Pryputniewicz) – blog post, published on January 1, 2010

You can listen to Cathryn Fairlee on Spotify, you can listen to a bit without having an account or signing in though you can create a free Spotify account and listen to them all.

Here’s a hint of a story – different than than Celtic ones above – and this time on ReverbNation: https://www.reverbnation.com/cathrynfairlee/songs

Cathryn Fairlee was part of this Story Story Podcast with True Thomas: https://storystorypodcast.com/unusual-pets-cathryne-fairlee-true-thomas/

Some of her academic writings (may need to sign up for sites for free, but still available): https://sonoma.academia.edu/CathrynFairlee

A post by her on Chinese Teahouse Telling on the National Storytelling Network blog: https://storynet.org/chinese-teahouse-telling/

Cathryn Fairlee tells “The Search for Three Magic Words” as part of the Seattle Storytellers Guild’s Kalavala Epic Event on March 25th, 2017 Audio Recording (shared by Barry McWilliams) http://www.eldrbarry.net/epic/kalevala%2006.htm

Event Page: http://www.eldrbarry.net/epic/Kalevala.htm

Cathryn Fairlee and  Mary Louise Chown tell “Princess Badoura and Prince Komarelzima” at the Seattle Storyteller’s Guild 1,001 Nights Epic Event, May 5th, 2018. Audio  Recording (shared by Barry McWilliams):  http://www.eldrbarry.net/epic/1001NightsAudio/Cathryn%20Fairlee%20Princess%20Badoura%20and%20Prince%20Kamarelziman%20%2031.mp3

Event Page: http://www.eldrbarry.net/epic/1001NightsEpic.htm

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 Cathryn Fairlee with her guidance to many storytellers, especially in telling epic tales through never limiting herself to one way to give. She made sure that the stories she told were passed on to others before passing on. Thank you, Cathryn.

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

Cap’s Off to You!-Brother Blue (Posthumously) and Celebrating Story

Featuring:  Brother Blue (Posthumously)

Storyteller, Mentor, & “Holy Fool”

Brother Blue made an impression as soon as you are in the same room. He could be 10 feet away or 100 feet away and still his aura will take hold. Yes, the first time I saw Brother Blue, it was at the National Storytelling Conference held in Bellingham, Washington in 2004. This was my first time attending any National Storytelling Conference. Seeing Brother Blue solidified my need to promote the art of storytelling in any way that I could. He was willing to share his true self with everyone. Could I find my own way to further the work? Brother Blue always sought for people to find their voice and then shout it out to the heavens.

I can’t even dedicate decent enough words or thoughts about him. I had that fleeting moment that, to this day, feels surreal. All I know is that when he came to the floor of the auditorium that bustled with bards and raconteurs – all focus was on him when he took the stage. People – like me – hung on his every word. He was a peace-maker and what often felt eccentric bits of wisdom that formed as he opened his mouth. One of the most intelligent person I could hope to know all in disguise – of sorts – in his “wanderer” attire of different shades of blue – from the blue hat to the blue shirt and pants and covered in butterflies. Always butterflies, a symbol of personal transformation. Everything he did, said, and wore was with great purpose – often with spiritual undertones.

He saw himself as the “Holy Fool,” and a moment with him was enough to verify this identity. Five years later from when I first saw him in 2004, it was sounded out through the storytelling universe that Brother Blue had passed on.

Yet, he never really passed on. I see his influence everywhere.

When meeting with Laura Packer through Zoom, I noticed the blue butterfly on her left palm. I flashed back to 2004 again. Now, Laura Packer would be a person who could share so much more than me on Brother Blue’s ever-inspiring nature. She purposely has that blue butterfly as a constant reminder about him.

I did find these articles, books, and videos about or featuring him – from people who either knew him better or delved deeper into how Brother Blue became Brother Blue:

Hugh Morgan Hill, the Storyteller Brother Blue, Dies at 88 – The New York Times – published November 26, 2009

RIP, our Brother, Blue aka Dr. Hugh Morgan Hill – massmouth – published November 4, 2009

Brother Blue Is Immortal – Daily Kos, written by WarrenS – published November 5, 2009

Brother Blue – Alchetron – updated May 24, 2018

Brother Blue: A Narrative Portrait of Brother Blue A.K.A. Dr. Hugh Morgan Hill – book dedicated, published October 1, 1995

Ahhhh! A Tribute to Brother Blue & Ruth Edmonds Hill – book dedicated, published September 1, 2003

Brother Blue – Listen with Your Entire Being – only 42 seconds long though wisdom to hear – shared on YouTube on November 18, 2009

Some Footage of Brother Blue – National Association of Black Storytellers Festival 2007/2008

Brother Blue Confesses – a homage shared by Thomas Southern with him talking as if he was Brother Blue – really remarkable in how he was able to capture Brother Blue’s essence – shared on YouTube on August 29, 2016

Miss No Name: Struggles for Justice – a homage shared by Jay O’Callahan with permission from Brother Blue’s wife, Ruth Hill – shared on YouTube on August 23, 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 Brother Blue for the influence of yesterday, today, and forever in all cosmic ways. He listened to others and thus why we are drawn to listen to him. Thank you, Brother Blue.

Brother Blue still has a story.  You have a story.  We all have stories.

Cap’s Off to You!-Syd Lieberman (Posthumously) and Celebrating Story

Featuring:  Syd Lieberman (Posthumously)

Storyteller, High School Teacher, Mentor

Syd Lieberman has been on my mind. A couple things have happened: I came upon an early picture of him on the cover of the November/December 2000 issue of “Storytelling Magazine” with the Storytelling World Awards; and then I read Sam Payne’s article for Story Crossroads combining outer space and storytelling. Syd Lieberman was the first storyteller commissioned by NASA to tell the stories of the scientists. Both of these things happened within the past month. I took it at a sign from the stars themselves that it was time to honor this incredible storyteller, teacher, and mentor.

I never had any one-on-one coaching from him, though it felt like it every time he was on stage. His personal stories are still vivid to me from baseball to World War I fighters to wishing to be Sean Connery. Amazingly, Syd felt it important for people to have access to his work. Even now, you can download entire albums from his website. You, too, can hear “I’m Sean Connery” and many more. At a time when many storytellers scrounged and hoarded their work from the online world–only wanting people at live venues to hear them–I respect Syd’s faith in the community of listeners.

So make that three things that have happened. The year 2020 was when Sean Connery died. Though I respected the actor in my thoughts, I automatically reflected on Syd Lieberman who passed away in 2015. I imagined the two of them hanging out in heaven: Syd, with humility, running some impressions of the actor in front of Sean Connery. The two would laugh. Then Sean sat and settled in for Syd’s entrancing way of telling stories. Perhaps Syd would choose one of his many works commissioned while on earth. Perhaps Syd created a whole new piece while there in heaven. Either choice, I delighted in this exchange.

Something else stuck with me–he said that even when he was commissioned to do a piece that he feared would having nothing he could love or grab onto, he searched hard until he was excited about the piece. When he did the story on World War I fighters, he hated the war. But, he thought of the pilot with a picture of his family in the cockpit. Family. Syd could love this part of the piece, and then everything transformed in the preparation and the telling of the piece.

After pondering a little more, I discovered that Syd had always been there in one way or another in my own storytelling journey. One of the first storytelling books I owned was entitled “The Storyteller’s Guide” written and edited by Bill Mooney and David Holt, published in 2000. Many storytellers shared advice on topics from finding the right story to copyright. Syd was one of several quoted within these pages. I started storytelling in 1994 but it was the year 2000 when the national and global levels of the art were realized.

Let’s think back before 1994. Syd was first a high school English teacher for three decades before coming to the storytelling world. He prided in having a classroom that did not look like a classroom. He took efforts to have soft chairs and a nontraditional set-up. Out there at Evanston Township High School in Illinois, students had the opportunity to have their minds blown, to think beyond the usual, to achieve what other people dubbed “impossible.”

I don’t have some big story of interacting with Syd. But they are big stories to me. I still remember listening to “Twelve Wheels on Mars” from the front row during the Weber State University Storytelling Festival. I got another front row seat for “Abraham & Isaac: Sacrifice at Gettysburg.” How can someone go back to the “real” world after experiences like these?

So I was flabbergasted when Syd attended my Fringe at the 2011 National Storytelling Conference. Front row. Center seat. This was for my “Family Famine: Hunger for Love” that delved into family relationships–the good and the bad–and combined traditional tales from around the world with, yes, the electric guitar for soundscaping by Joshua Payne and harmonizing singing with Holly Robison.

He didn’t have to say a word. His presence spoke wonders.

One time, when attending one of the Timpanogos Storytelling Conferences held at the Brigham Young University campus in Provo, Utah, the wind blew. I was walking to the next session and skirting about the crowds. I saw a hat fly off. I had no idea who belonged to that hat. Being an avid hat-wearer, this hat needed to be picked up. It rolled a bit, but I got it. I searched around for the owner. Syd Lieberman came to view.

“You saved my hat!” He beamed, took my hands, and gave a kiss on each cheek. From then on, I was “hat girl” whenever we crossed paths. Years went by, and still that was “my name.” So Syd is Sean Connery. Call me “hat girl.”

Thank you for your influence and kindness, Syd! Please share your own experiences. If you have yet to enjoy Syd’s work–or need to reminisce, please go to his website where you can find audio and video. What a mentor.

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 Syd for the influence of yesterday, today, and forever in storytelling and his way of finding the delight even in what seems to be a difficult situation. Thank you, Syd.

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

Cap’s Off to You!-Bill Higley (Posthumously) and Celebrating Story

Featuring:  Bill Higley (Posthumously)

Storyteller, Pantomime Extraordinaire, Friend

Bill Higley gained the status of “Treasured Teller” for the Weber State University Storytelling Festival and was a recipient of the Karen J. Ashton Award for his service with storytelling. Being a Treasured Teller has only been given to a handful of people in the almost-25-year history of this festival.  After seeing him perform, you would have no doubt.  Part of the “perk” of being “Treasured Teller” was that he was invited every year to perform without needing to take part in the annual auditions.  Yet, year after year, when I helped to run those auditions, he would sign up for a spot anyways. None of us completed judging ballots, though we sat back and enjoyed what made him so great. His specialty was in pantomime with one of his most famous pieces being “David and Goliath.”  When I heard of his passing, it felt as if the earth rumbled when Goliath fell. That was July 15, 2014. He was 74 years old. I cherished all the memories and all the people he inspired.

I loved being in the front row for any performance that he did. Nothing can compare to how he stretched his face or had his hands move just so. He created fantastic butterflies with a flit of a his hand or how he moved his feet to make me feel like he–and I–were high above in the sky.

Besides his pantomiming, one of his other signature tales that comes to mind would be “Clay Boy” that you can find as a picture book. This crazy boy made of clay–of course–kept growing bigger and bigger. The way he puffed his cheeks while telling the story made me laugh every time.

He mentored many youth tellers including some of our top youth with the Weber State University Storytelling Festival. He was the perfect one to guide for anything to do with body language and gestures or even specifically with pantomime itself.

He often volunteered at the library in Ogden and told stories galore. That alone would mean his impact would be in the thousands. Some people bring up his love for films. While teaching at Weber High School, he developed a club consisting of “Film Appreciation” students. He was always drawn to the classics and always preferred the original pieces rather than any kind of remake.

I wished I lived closer to Ogden so I could have experienced Bill’s performances more. He did many ParticiPlays at the Treehouse Museum, which is known for families to “step into a story” through hands-on displays and toys as well as the regular storytelling performances. When it came Christmas time, he often portrayed Santa there. However, some kids knew his voice so well at the library from his storytimes that many parents had to have ready-and-quick answers if there was any doubt with whose lap they sat upon.

Bill was as jolly as Santa, and someone we will love always.

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 Bill for the influence of yesterday, today, and forever in storytelling and his way of being youthful and wise at the same time. Thank you, Bill.

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