Eric James Wolf Q&A
Eric James Wolf of The Art of Storytelling Show has been on my radar for a long time and was one of the first people I invited to participate in a Q&A. Because he has dyslexia (see his comments about dyslexia below), writing isn’t easy for Eric, and he initially abandoned his attempt to respond to my questions. But he revived and refreshed his responses. I’m honored to present this Q&A with Eric. This Q&A will also be unique in that Eric has suggested he will respond to additional questions, so further parts of this Q&A may pop up in the future.
Bio: [From his Web site] Eric Wolf was awarded an Oracle Award for Distinguished Service to the National Storytelling Community in 2010 for his work on the podcast. This Oracle award is the highest award given by the storytelling community to those who have worked to support the art of storytelling nation wide.
Eric James Wolf was born three minutes after the taxi arrived at a New York City hospital on January 20th, 1970. He has attended numerous educational institutions, both public and private, graduating with a BA in Human Ecology from College of the Atlantic for which his senior project was storytelling. His experience has included an apprenticeship with a professional storyteller. He completed an M.S. in Environmental Education from Lesley University - sister school to Harvard.
He has been telling stories since 1993 for compensation — but his first public performance was at the age of 8 when his sister told her teacher that he was a good storyteller. The kindergarten teacher proceeded to nod knowingly and invited him to tell a story to her class. Little did she know — 20 minutes later, with the lights turned low, Eric finished telling, “The Old Man in the Shack.” Then the fifteen parents lined up out side were finally able to pick up their children.
Q&A with Eric James Wolf, Question 1:
Q: You blog about your struggle with dyslexia. Briefly, how has this struggle affected your development as a storyteller?
A: First it made me reliant on my voice — because I could not use the pen as a means of expression. Secondly it made me permanently side with the underdog — because I was the brightest dumb kid you ever met; because of this I learned firsthand — how screwed up institutions can play with your mind. Most importantly, dyslexia made me kind and humble very early in life, and I hope I never forget those lessons.
I wrote a great series of posts called Seven Principles every Parent should know about Dyslexia. I have been told by a lot of parents of dyslexics and dyslexics that it was very useful.
Q: What inspired you to “cross over” and explore the applied side of storytelling, e.g., your interview with Steve Denning (pictured)?
A: I have always been an applied storyteller so I do not view what Steven has done and what I do as any different in terms of application. What changed for me was my willingness to admit that I had anything to learn from someone who had once worked for the World Bank, in my experience, a place that has caused a great deal of human suffering in the world through its support of dictatorships and large economic projects, support that undermined small communities and storytellers like me all over the third world.
I see storytelling as the greatest tool we have in our toolbox to teach people right livelihood. The most important lesson that I learned from Steven was that he believes that too — just not in those words. He might say that stories allow us to examine more efficient way of conducting business to the benefit of all. Of course I don’t wan to put words in his mouth. I just say: Right livelihood is requirement of existing in an unjust world. Storytelling is the best way to have a conversation about how things are going in the world with the widest possible audience.
Q: In your list of questions for me*, you asked what characteristics attract me to the story practitioners I interview in my Q&As. Let me turn that question around and ask the same of you: What do you look for in the storytellers you interview in your podcasts?
[*Eric interviewed me here.]
A: Passion and expertise is key. I am continually surprised by America’s willingness to listen to people who are not experts in their field. I think we are continually in love with that idea of western — that somehow that myth has affected or shut off that part of our brain that goes — “How long have you been doing this?”
I mean, I have guests who have been telling stories for 50 years — 50 years! — and then I have people who come up to me and say - I should be on your show! I am doing this cool thing. So I say; “How long have you been doing this cool thing — whatever?” — They say; “A year.” A year! Like that’s a long time. Again I think it’s the myth of the frontier. But the thing about the western motif is it writes out a whole group of people who were there first — in fact who spent 6,000 years there first. Those are the people I really what to have on my show. You know the natives….
Q: You are to receive the Oracle Award in recognition of your work as producer and host of the Art of Storytelling with Brother Wolf Show during the last evening of the National Storytelling Conference this month [July 2010]. What does this award mean to you?
A: The National Storytelling Network is made up of some of the most committed people, and I am very flattered to be respected and held up by such a fine group. This award means the world to me — I have honestly never received an award for my work with storytelling — mostly because most award applications require things like a written application. I stopped doing that stuff years ago… after I didn’t get the 20th grant [I submitted a] proposal [for].
Q: You seem to have lots of storytelling projects going on and more planned for the future. Which projects are you most excited about now?
A: Depends on which day you ask me. Right now I am pretty excited about these projects:
- The launch of “The Application of Story” Podcast as a part of International Storytelling School, where I answer questions on the art of using stories in all aspects of human experience. No visible sign of this project exists…
- The continued production of the Art of Storytelling Podcast — now on show #107 and climbing!
- The continued development of my seven-hour-long continuous fairytale collection called Fairytales Forever.
- Creating performance fundraisers for environmental nonprofits using storytelling as both a teaching tool and a long range fundraising/publicity tool, as I did during the National Storytelling Network’s Official Environmental Storytellers Retreat for the Tecumseh Land Trust this past April.