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!”
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.
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.
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