Woman of a thousand stories

Woman of a thousand stories

She’s got stories to tell

By The Daily Reflector

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.

Storyteller Donna Washington entertains the crowd Thursday on the Town Common.

Watch and listen as she tells the tale of “Sody Saluratus” 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 Memorial Library.

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:

About childhood:

“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 old.

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 self-determination.”

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.”