If you heard strange sounds in the Campus Center this past week, you didn’t have to look far to find the source: Heathwood Hall was fortunate to host award-winning author and storyteller Donna Washington for the second time.
In the Belser Auditorium, the Kindergarteners were moving and baa-ing like kids (the baby-goat kind) as Ms. Washington told them the cautionary tale of “A Knock at the Door,” laughing as the baby goats got the better of the big bad wolf outside. The 3rd and 4th graders cheered on the little squirrel who tricked the bear that lived under the bridge and saved his whole family (and was then rewarded with a giant plate of homemade biscuits). Through it all, Ms. Washington illustrated the tradition of storytelling as a way of teaching, entertaining, and enhancing community connections.
Though she isn’t even fifty yet, Donna Washington is the living representative of a tradition thousands of years old. Every year, she travels the country and the world sharing the gift of storytelling at festivals and schools and workshops, to students, teachers, writers, and “anyone who will listen.” Storytelling, she explains, is more than just entertainment, or even cautionary instruction—it is the thread that stitches together our histories, communities, and our very humanity together. When we see that similar stories are told in many cultures, we can see the commonalities we all share.
The 4th grade took part in a special creativity workshop in which they got together in groups and created story beginnings, then built a communal story together. Watching students bouncing words and ideas off one another in one particularly lively round of spontaneous story-creation, Ms. Washington said, “they don’t know they are teaching one another vocabulary, stretching their imaginations and building communication and teamwork skills—they’re just having a good time!”
Ms. Washington visited Dr. Sally Plowden’s Senior Creative Writing class to help them hone their storytelling skills, and shared traditional ghost stories with her Composition and Literature class. Many of the most enduring stories, she points out, show the power of brain-skills over brute strength, and are a reminder that clever thinking can solve most problems.
Whether it is a traditional Anansi the Spider trickster tale, one of its derivatives in the Caribbean (“Aunt Nancy” stories), the Bruh Rabbit tales of the South, or Ms. Washington’s own family stories, she weaves a web of connection between peoples and cultures. She told John Adams’ 10th grade World History class, “when you listen to the stories one culture tells about another, you learn that view of people; and when you listen to the stories people tell about their own people, you learn how they see themselves.”
The Kindergarten knows what they want to tell about themselves—they are planning their own performance of Anansi the Spider, and plan to go down in Heathwood history as the greatest storytellers ever. We can’t wait to be in the audience, watching as a new generation of storytellers takes the stage.
Ms. Washington’s visit was this year’s installment of the Heathwood Library’s Visiting Author Series, which brings noted writers to campus every fall to share their insight and experience with Heathwood students.
For more information about Ms. Washington, visit her website: https://www.dlwstoryteller.com/