Autobiographical in her storytelling, Margaret French strikes her audience at its heart with true tales from seven decades of her own quietly amazing life. An army brat, she lived in the Yukon when she was six, is on her second marriage — and now her second career. “I had just retired as director of the Writing Center at Union College and took a workshop in storytelling in 2003,” she says. Now, she performs weekly at open mics at Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs and at festivals, libraries, schools, senior centers, and historical societies.
Hometown: Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada
Currently lives: Saratoga Springs
College degree: Masters in English, SUNY Albany
Favorite childhood stories: The Andrew Lang collections: The Red Fairy Book, The Blue Fairy Book, The Pink Fairy Book…
Early years: I lived in the Yukon when I was six. We’d camp in the wilderness for a month, catching our own food.
Evolution: I started out telling folktales, but now I tell personal stories.
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Why she does it: I love the intimacy with the audience. They nod; they laugh; they are touched; they are reminded of their own stories.
First personal story: “Their Last Visit to Vermont,” about taking my teenaged sons on a budget weekend to Vermont. They didn’t care about covered bridges for some reason.
Go-to stories: “The Lost Purse” and “The Gopher Museum.” Both are about life’s journeys.
Performance style: I don’t do a lot of walking around; I’m not very theatrical.
Marriages: My first husband was born in India. My second husband is from Brooklyn. His first wife was a very good friend of mine. When she was dying she said, “Nothing would please me more than for you and Jay to get together.”
Most surprising reactions: The story about my Indian mother-in-law got a huge response. I have Facebook friends from India I have never even met.
Best place to practice: In the shower, in the car. The invention of the cell phone is a great thing for storytelling, because you can walk and talk to yourself and wear headphones and they won’t lock you up.
Iffy project: I was writing something for National Novel Writing Month, about the Witch of Saratoga. It’s going to be a dreadful novel. My son talked me into it.
Random observation: My husband thinks I’ve become much more talkative since I became a storyteller!
Bonus: It’s one of the very few things you can do where your age is an advantage.
Philosophy: I don’t believe that life is easy, but I do believe that life is interesting.
Obsessive-compulsive interests: I’m training for the World Indoor Rowing Championship in Boston. I also do these two-day walks, with 26 miles the first day and 13 the second. Also three-day walks with 20 miles each day.
What makes a story: The more difficult the experience, the better the story. You have to put some humor in it, too. When I tell the story about my mother dying, I do tell the part about her saying to the young orderly, “Where are you taking me? To the morgue?”
For more information: www.margaretfrench.com