|Woman of a thousand stories
stories to tell
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
Donna Washington may or may not be a woman of a thousand
faces. But she is certainly a woman of a thousand stories.
||The Durham storyteller and mother of two has a story about
everything. Which is a good thing because Washington was
featured at the Storytelling on the Common event for school
groups Thursday at the Greenville Town Common. And on Thursday
night, she told more stories at an event at 7 p.m. at Sheppard
Washington, a storyteller for 14 years, tells tales from
around the world. She is the author of "The Story of Kwanzaa,"
"The Big, Spooky House" and "A Pride of African Tales."
The Daily Reflector's Kim Grizzard talked with Washington
\\about her childhood, how she became an author and
storyteller, her upcoming projects and her well-publicized
facial expressions. Here are her stories:
"I am an Army brat. I was born in Colorado, but I only
lived there for six months and I have never been back. I've
lived all over the country and spent most of my childhood in
Asia. I grew up in Korea.
"There are seven kids in my family. Three adopted, and my
mother had four.
"My dad was pretty incredible in the way that ... we didn't
watch an awful lot of television in the evenings after supper
... After supper, my father would sit at the head of the
table, and he would just tell us stories. And so when I was in
kindergarten and first grade, I learned all my Greek
mythology, I learned my Roman mythology. .. he would also
fracture fairy tales. He would do 'Snow White and the Three
Bears,' that sort of thing. We thought my father was thousands
of years old because when he told us our Greek mythology ...
he did it all in first person. So we thought he had been there
at all of these places. He was also a slight of hand magician,
so he would make things disappear at the dinner table. He told
us that he was apprentice to Merlin the magician ... I was in
third-grade when I realized he wasn't thousands of years
About becoming an author and a storyteller:
"I went off to Northwestern University, where, about two
years into my studying there, I had to pretend to be a
storyteller because I was in a piece of theater where I had to
pretend to be a storyteller. When the show was over, this
fellow I had never seen before walks up to me, points at me
and says 'You should be a storyteller.' And I said, 'OK.'
'Cause, you know, I was 19 and when you're 19, you can do
anything. And so he then spent the next two years of his life
turning me into a storyteller. ... He actually got me my first
job as a storyteller and kind of turned me onto it.
"About a year and a half after I graduated from
Northwestern University, I was out in California performing
... and I got off the stage and a woman walked up to me and
said, 'Do you actually write books?' And I said, 'No.' She
said, 'You should.' And then she turned out to be one of the
chief editors at Harper Collins children's books, and of
course, I didn't know that at the time. She gave me a card,
and I lost it, you know, because I was 21, and when you're 21,
you're irresponsible. I got home from California and found it
and called her and (said), 'Are you serious?' And she said,
'Yes, I am.' So that's how I started writing.
About her upcoming projects:
"I have stories that I only tell to (her children, ages 6
and 9). ... The kids take parts in the stories, and I can't
imagine how I would tell them without them; it's been so long
that I've been telling them with them. So they started asking
me if I would record these stories. ... Then I went to my
son's class, and they were singing for the parents, and they
sound great. And I thought, 'You know what? I'm going to do a
storytelling CD, and I'm going to have his third-grade class
sing on it, and I'm going to have my kids record the stories
with me. So next month, I have a new CD coming out. It's going
to be called 'Angels Laughter.' ... Almost all the stories, my
kids are telling the story with me on the recording.
"I have another (book) coming out, 2007, I believe in the
fall ... called 'L'il Rabbit's Kwanzaa.' There are a lot of
books about Kwanzaa, but ... they're not fun, necessarily.
They're informational books. ... It's a story about a little
rabbit whose grandmother is sick on the Karamu, which is the
feast of Kwanzaa, and he decides he's going to go out and make
Karamu himself because Kwanzaa is about
About the faces she makes:
"People have said a lot of crazy stuff about me as a
performer. One of the things people say is that I have a
rubber face. One woman said that I was a walking Disney movie.
I also do something called vocal pyrotechnics, which is
something where I make all of my own sound effects and all of
my own character sounds. ... I talk about myself as a kinetic
performer. I really like the idea that you get the character
or characters inside your body, inside your face. If your
character has big, bug-eyes, then you should have big,
bug-eyes. ...I am known for getting in the paper with bizarre
expressions on my face ... with my mouth hanging open, my
tongue hanging out. ... Mostly, when I'm being (photographed)
as a storyteller, I never look dignified. I look like I'm
about to jump out of the paper at you."