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Donna L. Washington (1967-) Biography - Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights

story review kwanzaa african

Born 1967, in Colorado Springs, CO; Education: Northwestern University, B.S. (speech), 1990. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Unitarian Universalist.

Addresses

Agent—c/o Author Mail, Hyperion Books, 114 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10011.

Career

Storyteller and actress. Sunday school teacher, 1995—. Member of board of directors for social service agency for people with developmental disabilities, 1994-96.

Member

National Storyteller's Association, Illinois Humanities Scholar.

Honors Awards

Parents' Choice Award for recording Live and Learn: The Exploding Frog and Other Stories.

Writings

The Story of Kwanzaa, illustrated by Stephen Taylor, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1996.

A Big, Spooky House, Jump at the Sun/Hyperion Books for Children (New York, NY), 2000.

A Pride of African Tales, illustrated by James Ransome, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2004.

Also author and performer of recording Live and Learn: The Exploding Frog and Other Stories; author and performer of two full-length storytelling programs, produced in Chicago, IL.

Sidelights

A storyteller and author based in North Carolina, Donna L. Washington has created three picture books that are drawn from the many stories she tells to her young audiences. She began performing on stage at age six, and got her first taste of storytelling from her father while the family sat around the table and shared stories over desert. She has adapted and directed folktales into two full-length stage productions for Chicago's Upstage Downstage Theatre. Washington has also written and performed one-woman shows about Phylis Weatley, Sojourner Truth, and Harriet Tubman.

In her first children's book Washington introduces young readers to Kwanzaa. The Story of Kwanzaa describes the seven-day festival of African and African-American pride and heritage, including a discussion of the modern holiday's origins and an explanation of various activities and the events or principles they symbolize. A School Library Journal reviewer called Washington's work "a useful addition in a still small group of books," while in Kirkus Reviews a critic praised The Story of Kwanzaa as "a fine primer on a holiday that is fast gaining recognition."

In A Big Spooky House Washington tells the story of a big-boned, strong-armed man who, while traveling to sign up for the army, takes shelter in what appears to be an abandoned, run-down house but turns out to be comfortably furnished. Inside, in front of a roaring fire, the man is repeatedly awakened by a cat that asks him whether he will still be in the house when John gets there. As the cats grow ever larger, the man becomes more concerned, until a particularly large creature wakes the man up, and after asking the question regarding John, proceeds to eat up all the other animals and sends the strong man fleeing out into the stormy dark. In Booklist Gillian Engberg noted that the story, "suspenseful and filled with colloquial language," contains enough repetition to allow for full audience participation during story-hour readings.

Washington includes six stories from cultures in the western part of the plateau continent in her book A Pride of African Tales. A trickster tale, a fable, a story from real life, a cautionary story, a porquoi tale, and a taboo tale are each presented along with information regarding their history, their purpose, and a list of sources for readers wishing to locate similar stories. Noting that such colorful and meaningful tales were intended to be spoken rather than read, Washington encourages children to read the text out loud, and "adopts a new voice for each story," to make that reading experience reflect the region from where each story is drawn. In Booklist Jennifer Mattson praised A Pride of African Tales as a "fine collection," and went on to note that Washington's presentation will aid teachers in expanding "children's understanding of Africa's diversity and the richness of its narrative tradition." Dubbing the book's text "majestic," School Library Journal reviewer Harriett Fargnoli added that Washington's insertion of "phrasing and cadences invite pauses and should encourage successful retelling." Fargnoli also had praise for the accompanying illustrations by James Ransome, describing the richly colored watercolor paintings as "extraordinarily lush."

Biographical and Critical Sources

PERIODICALS

Booklist, September 1, 1996, Susan Dove Lempke, review of The Story of Kwanzaa, p. 138; September 15, 2000, Gillian Engberg, review of A Big, Spooky House, p. 251; March 15, 2004, Jennifer Mattson, review of A Pride of African Tales, p. 1306.

Childhood Education, winter, 2004, Melanie Friedman, review of A Pride of African Tales, p. 109.

Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 1996, review of The Story of Kwanzaa, p. 1409.

Plays, December, 1996, review of The Story of Kwanzaa, p. 64.

Publishers Weekly, September 30, 1996, review of The Story of Kwanzaa, p. 88; February 2, 2004, review of A Gathering of Stories, p. 80.

Reading Today, February-March, 2004, Lynne T. Burke, review of A Pride of African Tales, p. 28.

School Library Journal, October, 1996, review of The Story of Kwanzaa, p. 42; September, 2000, Karen Land, review of A Big, Spooky House, p. 224; August, 2004, Harriett Fargnoli, review of A Pride of African Tales, p. 114.

ONLINE

Charlotte Mecklenberg Library Web site, http://www.bookhive.org (June 5, 2005), streaming video featuring Washington.

Donna L. Washington Web site, http://www.dlwstoryteller.com (April 5, 2005).

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