Cap’s Off to You!-Robert Bly (Posthumously) and Celebrating Story

Featuring: Robert Bly

Intriguing Imaginer, Poet, Beloved Bard

I own a copy of “Iron John: A Book About Men” by Robert Bly. Beyond this book, I was oblivious to his significance in the world of poetry and prose. When I learned of his passing at age 94, several storytellers gave odes or at least well-wishes during that time. Most people shared one of his thousands of poems. While some people have labeled Robert Bly as “controversial,” I found his ideas fascinating and a breath of fresh air in defending men and promoting the idea of grief and melancholy to be accepted and celebrated with men today. As a woman, I see this as beautiful. Sometimes I feel that men are often targeted in today’s society. Acknowledging the feelings of men does not, in any way, diminish the feelings of women.

Thus, an exploration of Robert Bly’s life gave me much to ponder. In more than one interview, Robert Bly admitted to not feeling safe with his alcoholic father. Yet, he felt inspired to write poetry when he “felt safe.” So, he did much better on a creative level when he was away from his father. Yet, he yearned for greater bonds to be between father and son. Delving into the traditional Grimm tale of “Iron John” – with a man that becomes a father-figure – has another way of touching my heart for Bly’s work.

Of his 40+ published works, his most famous did happen to be “Iron John: A Book About Men.” It was on the New York Best Seller’s List for 62 weeks. At the time I bought it, I only knew it sounded interesting and was part of the optional reading list with the Storytelling Masters program linked with East Tennessee State University.

While watching videos of Robert Bly, he sometimes referenced William Stafford or “Bill” Stafford as Robert would put it. Bill said many lovely words about Bly’s work including the idea of being a spiritual experience and being part of a daily intake much like vitamins. Bill encouraged the writing of morning poems, that Robert Bly then took on as a challenge. Part of morning poetry was always writing them by hand while still lying down, when you barely have awoken. Robert joked that a computer or typewriter would be too heavy on the chest while lying down! Later on, Robert published a collection of these pieces called, appropriately, “Morning Poems.”

I find a beauty in this daily challenge. I may want to try it for myself. Have you done any such challenge? While focusing on poetry, these could be story snippets in the morning.

Robert Bly was inspired in poetry as well as in music. He was often called a bard. He played many instruments and sometimes performed with others or taught several workshops that combined storytelling, poetry, and music.

I’ve learned that I must study more about Robert Bly. At least reviewing someone’s life allows me a chance to honor someone – that giving of time. Learn more at Robert Bly’s website.

A video that I found featuring Robert Bly gives a hint to what he was like:

Still, more can be viewed:

On Being a Man Pt. 1-6 (1989) Robert Bly Michael Meade


Robert Bly: News of the Universe

If you have links to add – video, audio, articles – please share by emailing or commenting on this blog post.

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 Robert Bly for his inspiring words to re-think how we feel about masculinity and all that entails. The mythopoetic has a spiritual side to it as well. His poetry, stories, and music will continue to impact generations to come.

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

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 –

Obituary –

Blowing the Whistle while Black | Arthuretta Holmes Martin | TEDxWilmingtonSalon –

Chautauqua 2020: Q&A with Arthuretta Holmes Martin –

Arthuretta Holmes Martin’s website –

Integration’s Unintended Legacy | Arthuretta Holmes Martin at CURE’s 400 Years of Storytelling Event –

Jubilee Voices: Stories of the Underground Railroad (Sandy Spring Slave Museum) –

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”-

Library of Congress – Diane Wolkstein Collection-

New York Times article when Diane Wolkstein passed-

Diane Wolkstein and Stories From Many Lands, published by NYPR Archives & Preservation-

“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: – 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 –

Essay – Ray Hicks: The Mysterious Healer –

Los Angeles Times article when Ray Hicks passed –

Ray Hicks, from Local Storyteller to Cultural Icon: A Bibliography –

The Giant Storyteller: Ray Hicks Tales Bore the Unmistakable Twang and Sensibilities of Early Appalachia –

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.