Diane Wolkstein, a summer visitor to Springs and world-renowned storyteller, died in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, last Thursday following emergency heart surgery. She was 70.
Ms. Wolkstein is credited with reviving an interest in storytelling, particularly the folklore of countries familiar and more exotic, as New York City’s official storyteller, a position she held from 1967 to 1971. In the year-round post, she would visit parks and schools and share stories from standard fairy tales as well as those lesser known and gathered from all over the world.
She went on to help found Bank Street College’s graduate storytelling program and was a visiting teacher of mythology at New York University for 18 years. She was the author of 23 books for adults and children.
Ms. Wolkstein was born on Nov. 11, 1942, in Newark, N.J., to Henry and Ruth Wolkstein, and grew up in Maplewood, N.J. She graduated from Smith College and received a master’s degree in education at Bank Street.
After leaving her post as storyteller for the city, she continued to tell stories every summer for four decades at the statue of Hans Christian Andersen in Central Park. She was known for the depth of research she employed to bring classic stories into her repertoire. Her radio show, “Stories From Many Lands,” was broadcast on WNYC, a public radio station in the city, from 1968 to 1980.
In Haiti, she sat on porches and visited late-night gatherings to hear and record the stories told there. She titled the resulting collection “The Magic Orange Tree.” Aboriginal storytellers helped her with Australian tales, and she worked with Noah Kramer, a well-known archeologist, to retell the Sumerian epic “Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth.”
Ms. Wolkstein, who was divorced, is survived by a daughter, Rachel Zucker, three grandsons, her mother, and two brothers, Martin and Gary Wolkstein.
A service was held on Sunday at the New York Insight Meditation Center. A second service is planned for the summer or fall. Donations have been suggested to Partners in Health at donate.pih.org, or the Tzu Chi Foundation, 1100 South Valley Center Avenue, San Dimas, Calif. 91773.