Storytellers to visit Centrum workshop


Donna Washington, an internationally known and multi-award-winning storyteller, will be a featured guest faculty member next week for Centrum’s inaugural Oral Storytelling Workshop.

“If you want to touch someone or change someone, look directly in their eyes and talk to them,” she said. “Storytelling is powerful because it is the basic way we make contact with each other.”

Naomi Baltuck will join Washington to present a pair of classes for the event Nov. 15-17.

Washington’s class, titled “So You Want to Do Some Storytelling?” will be a hands-on experience with a focus on different aspects of the artform.

“Storytelling is at the core of everything we do,” she said. “Nothing on TV isn’t story-driven. There’s nothing in a book that isn’t story-driven. Stories drive us.”

Washington paraphrased Kendall Haven, another storyteller: “We could easily be classified as homonarrative, the storytelling ape, because we evolved to stare into each other’s eyes and learned to communicate with each other,” she said. “That is on our most basic level how we figure stuff out.”

Washington always has been a storyteller, appearing as a guest for the past 31 years. She graduated from Northwestern University and stayed in the Chicago area to work in the city and suburbs. During the past few years, she’s performed at festivals, libraries and schools across the country.

“It’s cool to be one of the first performers that’s invited out,” Washington said about being one of Centrum’s first speakers for its new program.

As a first-of-its-kind workshop, the event will be held through the Centrum Literary Program in conjunction with its autumn writers residency.

“Storytelling is a big deal right now,” said Lisa Werner, Centrum director of operations, who added it plays a role in early childhood development. 

Werner asked Washington to present at the workshop because she understands oral traditions and the connections they can make through centuries.

“We looked for faculty that were coming from that place,” Werner said, complimenting Washington’s reputation. “The fact that she took time out of her schedule to come here for this tiny, little program was truly inspiring.”

Baltuck will present “On the Tip of Your Tongue: Stories You Didn’t Know You Knew,” and she will explore ways for listeners to mine their memories and experiences to turn them into crafted stories to share with family, friends and other audiences.

Baltuck is from Seattle and complements Washington’s style. She earned a degree in English Literature from the University of Michigan before she moved to the Northwest to work as a teacher, dancer and puppeteer. In 1985, she became a full-time storyteller, and she’s served 15 years as the president of the Seattle Storytellers Guild. She also received the Seattle Storytellers Guild Golden Circle Award.

Baltuck has taught at the University of Washington’s Experimental College and at Seattle Pacific University, and she has toured with the Washington State Arts Commission Cultural Enrichment Program.

Although the workshops are filled to capacity with 20 people, there will be opportunities for the public to witness the storytelling Washington and Baltuck provide. Washington will appear at the Port Townsend Library at 7 p.m. Nov. 16 for an informal practice performance. Both storytellers will finish the week with a public performance at 7 p.m. Nov. 17 at the Northwind Arts Center, 701 Water St.

Werner said a grant from the Port Townsend Art Commission will allow Washington to appear at Salish Coast Elementary School to speak with students for a couple of sessions. She also will meet with one Port Townsend High School English class before the week’s workshops.


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