It is a naked business, that of the storyteller. Despite the time and care that I might take in choosing my clothes or stories, once the story begins, there is not much protection. The work of the storyteller, as I have come to understand it, is to express the spirit, and that means full exposure. Whatever story I tell, it is an expression of who I am and my intention to bring understanding and courage that we each may live the potential of our spirit. The seed for storytelling was planted in my childhood. My mother told me stories at night. The Rabbi at the neighborhood synagogue told short, pithy stories. The stories my mother told were entertaining and reassuring; the Rabbis stories were riveting. What to do when two people are in the desert and there is only water enough for one? Why are we here? Is there a purpose given to each of us?
While Diane Wolkstein had a seemingly endless supply of fairy tales, folktales, and epics in her repertoire, it can truly be said these were the highlights of her forty–five year career.
Stories at the Statue of Hans Christian Andersen
From her debut in the Summer of 1967 to the Fall of 2012, Diane became strongly identified with the summer storytelling series at New Yorks Central Park (and would later become its artistic director). She also became deeply identified with some of the classic Andersen stories (Hans Clodhopper, The Most Incredible Thing of All, The Nightingale, The Emperors New Clothes e.g.), as well as the Eleanor Farjeon story Elsie Piddock Skips in Her Sleep (which became a customary story event every September through the year 2012).
The Magic Orange Tree and Other Haitian Folktales
First published in 1978, Dianes collection of twenty–seven stories Haiti remains a go–to collection — not only as a sampling of storytelling from the troubled Caribbean nation, but as a starting point for anyone taking a strong interest in oral storytelling and looking for excellent material. These are evocative and poignant stories for all ages — stories about how we might live together in a community — which deserve the listener / readers participation and empathy.
Dianes definitive retelling of the Sumerian epic of the Goddess Inanna — of her courtship, her queenship, her descent into the Underworld and her rebirth — comes across as raw and powerful as when it was first committed to cuneiform tablets five millennia ago. First published in 1983, Dianas book, co–authored with Samuel Noah Kramer, continues today to be embraced by both mythology and goddess spirituality circles.
Jewish Folktales, Biblical and Hasidic Stories
Drawing equally on Judaic folklore, midrash from the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament), and the teachings of her rabbi (the late Shlomo Carlebach), Diane sought to bring healing and reconciliation through the power of story steeped in the Jewish tradition — as evidenced by the Celebrating Our Mistakes concert of 1994 and her final book Treasures of the Heart (2003).
Dianes last (and unfinished) project, an adaptation of the classic Chinese epic Journey to the West, offered to Westerners a taste of the colorful adventures of Sūn Wùkōng as he accompanies the Tang Priest to Buddhas monastery, while stressing the epics Buddhist and Taoist roots.
The Havoc in Heaven episode, which she told for families, tells of Sūn Wùkōngs quest for immortality, which inevitably results in his being punished by Buddha. In the performances for adult listeners, Diana offered the balance of the story, in which a humbled (?) Sūn Wùkōng and his master — the Tang Priest Tripitaka — travel to northern India to retrieve (and bring back to China) the Three Basket Scriptures from Buddhas monastery.
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