by Diane Wolkstein, January 2013
A message from Diane's daughter, Rachel:
The Most Incredible Thing of All at Central Park (2010)Courtesy Rosegarden Television (CC BY–NC–ND)
"It is with profound sadness that I tell you that my mother, Diane Wolkstein, passed away very early this morning in Taiwan. She had had emergency heart surgery but the procedure was not sufficient to allow her heart to work on its own. She was not conscious and she was not alone. She had several of her close friends from Taiwan there with her and at the very end she had a rabbi say kaddish and Buddhist prayers were said as well. Her death is a terrible shock. Her life overflowed with joy, intensity, friendship, love and spirit. Her love for each of us and the stories she told live inside of us forever." —Rachel Zucker
Diane Wolkstein, world-renowned storyteller, folklorist, mythologist and author of many books for children and adults, died following emergency heart surgery on January 31 while on a trip to Taiwan working on her most recent project, the Chinese epic story of Monkey King or Journey to the West.
Diane was the author of 23 books of folklore and performed to sold-out crowds throughout the world. What set Diane apart as a storyteller are her performing gifts as well as the depth of knowledge and research she devoted to the stories she told. Diane’s collection, The Magic Orange Tree, was the result of numerous visits to Haiti during which Diane recorded stories told on porches and in late-night gatherings. In Australia, Diane met Aboriginal storytellers who granted her special permission to tell their stories. Wolkstein spent years working with Samuel Noah Kramer, one of the world’s pre-eminent archeologists, to create the definitive telling of the great Sumerian epic, Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth, which she performed at the United Nations and the British Museum. Because of Diane’s work, Inanna has become an influential text in feminist studies and studies of ancient history.
Diane’s belief in story and its potential to transform people’s lives propelled her to the forefront of the modern storytelling movement as early as 1967, when she joined the New York City’s Department of Parks & Recreation and started a year–round storytelling program for the city’s parks and schools. Diane initiated America’s first graduate storytelling program at Bank Street College of Education and was a regular visiting teacher of mythology at New York University for 18 years. She is a founding member of both America’s National Storytelling Conference and the Storytelling Center of New York City, and has held hundreds of workshops on the art of storytelling throughout her long career. For thirteen years Diane’s radio show, Stories from Many Lands, was broadcast on WNYC–AM/FM bi–weekly, and in 2007 New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg named June 22nd of that year “Diane Wolkstein Day” in honor of Diane’s 40 years of storytelling for the people of New York City.
New York City’s children gathered at the foot of the statue of Hans Christian Andersen in Central Park to hear Diane tell stories every Saturday for more than forty summers. The culminating event of the storytelling season was her telling of Elsie Piddock Skips in her Sleep and the skip rope competition that followed.
Diane is survived by her daughter, Rachel Zucker, her son-in-law Josh Goren, her three grandsons Moses Goren, Abram Goren and Judah Goren, her mother Ruth Wolkstein, her brothers Martin Wolkstein and Gary Wolkstein, her sister-in-law Elizabeth Borsodi, nieces and nephews and a grandniece. She also leaves behind many dearly loved friends in New York and around the world.
In lieu of flowers please consider making a donation in Diane’s name to Partners in Health, or Tzu Chi Foundation.
A public memorial service will be held this Sunday, February 3rd, at 3PM at the New York Insight Meditation Center, located at 28 West 27th Street, 10th floor (b/w 5th and 6th Avenue). (A second memorial, celebrating Diane's life is being planned for the summer/fall).