Karen Sangaline Pillsworth

One of the Hudson Valley’s coolest storytellers

Known far and wide as the Storyteller Laureate of Kingston, Karen Sangaline Pillsworth has been publicly telling her tales for more than 30 years. She’s a regular at the Mohonk Mountain House, as well as at a wide array of festivals, libraries, and camps. All this activity is in addition to her full-time gig as a teacher at a local Montessori school. Her stories mostly center on Kingston and its history, though she also tells cautionary tales about her own life. “People think I read books out loud. Having to explain over and over what a storyteller is has made me a better teller!”

Age: 58

Hometown: Kingston

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Currently living: Kingston. “But after I married my husband in 1977 we moved 13 times in 13 years because he was a merchant seaman.

College degree: Elementary Education and English, College of St. Rose

Mentor: My Aunt Hannah, who was born in 1902. She graduated from Kingston Hospital School of Nursing in 1926. I used to sit on our big front porch and listen to her tell stories about walking patients through cornfields and administering mustard plasters. I always say to be a good storyteller first you have to be a good listener.

First gig: Telling the story of Winnie the Pooh to an audience at the College of St. Rose. When I started telling stories professionally it was to young children, then I moved on to teenagers, and finally to adults.

Go-to story for children: “Betsy Bubblegum,” the adventures of a piece of bubblegum getting stuck to things all over Kingston.

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Favorite story for adults: “The Extra Chair,” the story of the chair left when someone passes away. It always evokes strong emotions.

Favorite Hudson Valley-based story: “The Woman Who Was Buried Alive,” about the building of the Ashokan Reservoir

Best teen story: “The Permanent Record,” which talks about all the mistakes I made growing up, like filling up pillboxes with wine to take on a class trip in Catholic school. Making yourself vulnerable through stories allows teens to see the real person. Then they start telling stories about themselves.

Moment of truth: One time I was storytelling at a school and there was a bomb threat; we had to evacuate to a church. I was with kindergarten through second grade children, and I was able to keep everybody occupied while they checked the school building. I didn’t have a microphone or a projector, but when the lights go out I can still do what I do.

Most uncomfortable story setting: On the back of a flatbed truck in Rhinebeck in freezing weather for the Sinterklaas celebration.

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Weirdest story setting: Sitting on a rock in a cave in the Widow Jane Mine in Rosendale.

Looking ahead: As I get closer to retirement, I look forward to being a full-time storyteller. The possibilities are endless.

For more info: www.karenpillsworth.com

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