Central Park

The Daily Plant : Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Remembering Diane Wolkstein, Parks Storyteller Who Entertained Generations

Courtesy of NYC Parks Photo Archive

Diane Wolkstein (1942-2013), who since 1967 performed storytelling in our parks for children and the young at heart, died on January 31 in Kaohsiung, Taiwan.

Wolkstein was born in Newark, New Jersey, and raised in Maplewood. She graduated from Smith College and earned a Masters in education from Bank Street College. She later worked in Paris as a teacher, while studying mime.

In June 1967 she began her career at Parks (hired at a salary of $40 a week) by telling stories to children at the Hans Christian Andersen statue just west of Central Park’s Conservatory Water (the model boat pond). Continuing to perform at the sculpture for decades--her last performance there was on September 15, 2012--she also directed countless other practitioners of the storytelling arts. The program she founded would become the longest running free storytelling program in the United States.

Wolkstein’s success was linked to her unique approach to storytelling that appealed to all ages and embraced diverse cultures. Among her best known stories were tales of the Haitian countryside, where she spent seven years of her life, and those of Australian Aborigines. In 2007 she launched a storytelling marathon in Central Park called CelebrateStory, which brought together 20 storytellers from varied backgrounds to perform.

Also in the same year, Mayor Michael Bloomberg declared June 22 “Diane Wolkstein Day” to commemorate her then 40 years of storytelling for New York City. In addition to her work with Parks, Wolkstein authored 23 books on folklore, and hosted “Stories with Diane Wolkstein” that aired on WNYC radio for seventeen years.

Wolkstein was part of a broader revival of the storytelling tradition that had its origins in the 1960s. She traveled widely and performed on five continents. This past year our office caught up with Wolkstein regarding her career and its impact. Speaking of the Central Park storytelling, she commented, “It is the model on which storytelling programs have blossomed throughout the United States. I am always receiving letters and calls asking help from people in different cities and places who want to set up similar programs in their own towns or cities. Hundreds of storytellers have been trained in their profession by telling at the Park.”

She continued, “And what is most dear to me is that hundreds of children return to bring their children! And now their grandchildren!! Imagine such a tradition in the heart of New York City.”

And so to Diane Wolkstein, kids from 3 to 93 thank you.

Submitted by Jonathan Kuhn, Director of Art & Antiquities
(with assistance from intern Anne McGrath)


“Life itself is the most wonderful fairy tale.”

Hans Christian Andersen
(1805 – 1875)

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