Story gatherer: collector of inspiring family stories

Linda Whitesitt (with my maternal grandmother, Egedia Johnson)

story gatherer Linda Whitesitt with her maternal grandmother Egedia Johnson

I have long been a champion of people’s stories. As a music historian, I’ve written about women patrons of music and how their efforts changed their lives and their communities. As a radio announcer, I’ve promoted women composers and their music. As a producer of a cassette tape magazine (seems ancient, doesn’t it?) — Raising Our Voices/Telling Our Stories — I interviewed women artists about their creative and spiritual paths. With each article, each program, each monthly offering, I wanted to make sure the women I was writing about and talking with wouldn’t be forgotten.

Lately, I’ve become fascinated with the lives of my ancestors, how their strength in facing life’s challenges can give me courage to overcome my own, how there are lessons to be learned in their stories. This is the work that has led me to TreeStories.

I’m also a musician, and one of the things my years of violin playing have taught me is that music can heal. My work with people’s stories has taught me that words written and spoken from the heart are healing as well. May you find such stories at TreeStories.

Read my story about my search for my grandma Gedia here and my story about helping my husband survive with lung cancer here.

My  Story Gatherings

Work-in-progress — Chasing Honey: A Legacy of Hope from a Prairie Grandmother

Gedia Johnson, my maternal grandmother, the daughter of Swedish immigrants, a homesteader, a gutsy-God fearing pioneer, a survivor of the ill-fated experiment in the early 1900s to turn the northern Great Plains into the world’s granary, was a woman whose strong faith and fierce love sustained her and her Swedish-born husband through drought, dust storms, the Depression and the death of children. This is a fictive, verse memoir, based on their life on the prairies of southern Saskatchewan and eastern Montana. It is a story of resilience and the hope they had to carry to survive.

Why I wrote it:

Today I’m as old as Gedia was when she first held me in her arms, and I’d like to see her again, hear her strong, gravely voice tell me tales of her life on the prairie, have her introduce me to the grandfather who died before I was born. I wrote this book to find both of them, to take my place in a lineage of strong-willed, courageous, full-of-hope Swedish-American pioneers.

Read excerpts from my imaginative memoir-in-verse in these posts—Finding Our Place, Planting Love and Belonging to the Land: Whose am I?

The Summer of Our Awakening: My Grandmother’s Solstice Story

“I tell you this story as it was told to me. The words are my grandmother’s and her grandmother’s before her, reaching back to a time before time began. . . . We were sisters responding to a summons memories old — full moon’s call to walk the pilgrimage of high sun.”

On that pilgrimage, it became my imaginary grandmother’s task to explain a dream she and her sisters had, a nightmare of a “silent land where believing one lived the body’s prisoner within made one deaf to the music without.” The Summer of Our Awakening is a tale of one women’s quest to understand how her clan can awaken to their kinship with creation, a story about what we might learn if we listened to earth’s voices and the songs of our ancestors.

Why I wrote it:

To answer this question — how do we pull ourselves awake in enough time to avoid environmental collapse and restore our earthly home?

Buy it here

We’re Surviving Cancer . . . Today

(co-authored with my husband, Bennett Lentczner)

This book tells the story of how my husband and I survived his encounter with lung cancer. In it, he recounts his day-to-day survival in excerpts from periodic health updates that he sent to family and friends. I share my story in a collection of reflections on our love and where I found the strength to help him survive.

Why we wrote it:

To share our story about how love can nurture the hope and courage to survive cancer . . . one day at a time.

Read my first reflection here.

Buy it here

Other gatherings . . .

Stories of women and their spiritual journeys — Raising Our Voices/Telling Our Stories — A monthly cassette-tape magazine giving voice to women in the Carolina Piedmont (produced in the early 1990s)

Stories of women patrons of music —

“Women as ‘Keepers of Culture’: Music Clubs, Community Concert Series, and Symphony Orchestras,” in Cultivating Music in America: Women Patrons and Activists since 1860, ed. Ralph P. Locke and Cyrilla Barr (1997).

“Women’s Support of Music and Musicians,” in Women in Music: A History, ed. Karin Pendle (second edition, 2001).

“‘The Most Potent Force in American Music’: The Role of Women’s Music Clubs in American Concert Life, 1870s-1920s,” in The Musical Woman: An International Perspective, vol. 3, ed. Judith Lang Zaimont (1991).

“The Role of Women Impresarios in American Concert Life, 1870s-1930s,” in American Music VII/2 (Summer 1989).

A story of the twentieth-century American composer George Antheil —

The Life and Music of George Antheil, 1900-1959 (Ann Arbor, Michigan: UMI Research Press, 1983).

Buy it here

A story in the form of a resource book to help teachers, schools, school districts and arts organizations integrate the arts —

The ARTS Book: Designing Quality Arts Integration with Alignment, Rigor, Teamwork and Sustainability

(co-authored with Elda Franklin)

“Accessible common sense meets uncommon expert guidance in The Arts Book. This book is a thorough, reliable, wise, inspiring, user-friendly, distillation of the best the field of arts learning knows. Whitesitt and Franklin have created an essential foundation book that will take the national experiment in arts integration ahead a giant step. Buy it; trust it; wear out its pages.” Eric Booth (Eric Booth is on the faculty at Juilliard, the Lincoln Center Institute, and the Kennedy Center. He is a frequent keynote speaker and international arts consultant, the author of “The Everyday Work of Art,” and founding editor of the Teaching Artist Journal.)

Buy it here