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.

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.