January 1, 1948 - May 11, 2009


KathleenZundell_l.jpgOnce Upon A Time ...

there was a storyteller named Kathleen Zundell who traveled far and wide telling stories of fearless kids, feisty women, family foibles, and four-footed creatures. Her repertoire celebrated many cultures, stories with American Sign Language, and tales of the earth.

In Memoriam

By Ross Altman

Beloved Los Angeles Storyteller Kathleen Zundell passed away Monday morning, May 11, 2009. Kathleen was Storyteller-in-Residence at UCLA-Seeds University Elementary School for many years,as well as at Wildwood School and Children's Community School in the Valley. She continued teaching and performing even as she battled both Hodgkin's disease and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma with both conventional and alternative methods of healing.

Kathleen helped revive the ancient art of storytelling in Los Angeles when she co-founded (with Peggy Prentice) Community Storytellers in 1981, which continues to meet the second Thursday of every month at the Culver-Palms Methodist Church. Kathleen told "stories of fearless kids, feisty women, family foibles and four-footed creatures." In 1993, she joined with deaf actor Alan "SPO" Schwartz to create the duo Talking Hands and bring the sounds of silence to schoolchildren throughout the city. The following year Kathleen, Karen Golden, Angela Lloyd, Vicki Juditz and Leslie Perry founded the performing collective With OurWords-WOW-to bring their diverse stories to adult audiences at the Beverly Hills Public Library.

Her unique style of storytelling blended elements of myth, ritual, personal stories and burlesque, all fi ltered through a post-sixties sensibility and warmth of humanity that embraced both human and animal worlds with equal devotion.

She brought that same devotional character to her personal life, wherein she became the hub of a storytelling community that occasionally met at her home both in Topanga Canyon and later on in Mar Vista. She made each informal gathering memorable for its good food served pot-luck style, followed by a time for both storytellers and singers to share their latest confabulations, and ending with some form of ritual celebration that she would often spend hours preparing. While living in Topanga, she became famous for her early afternoon nature hikes and late night Moon Walks, which were highlighted by her intimate knowledge of local fl owers, trees and constellations.

Those fortunate friends who were on her extensive invitation list got to bring in the New Year on New Year's Day rather than Eve, a holiday which had special meaning for Kathleen, since it was also her birthday.

For Kathleen storytelling was the quintessential human art form, a way of combining music, storytelling, poetry, acting and even dance into a unifi ed whole, reaching as far back as the Bible and ancient Greece for some tales, with a broad knowledge of Native American creation myths, and her own life, which like all life she regarded as sacred and worth fi ghting for.

And fight she did, enduring prolonged pain and ongoing discomfort from both chemotherapy and radiation, as well as meditation, exercise, diet and spiritual disciplines that kept her outlook positive and forward-looking in the most physically demanding routines. In addition she endured the psychological torture of being in occasional periods of remission followed by a return of the disease that made death her constant companion.

Fortunately she had other companions, including her life partner, peace activist John Owen, her extraordinary dogs Cash and Lady, along with the domestic angels-her cats.

At the most recent gathering for her New Year's Day/Birthday party Kathleen read a new story entitled "White Flowers/Black Berries," which was just published. "White Flowers/Black Berries" recounts her mother's love of gardening, wilderness and a simple Thoreau-like dedication to the natural world, all tinged with sadness at her mother's recent death. Her story became as well a kind of eulogy for all things wise and wonderful, which sum up Kathleen Zundell as well as any two words can.

Ross Altman has a Ph.D. in English. Before becoming a full-time folk singer he taught college English and Speech. He now sings around California for libraries, unions, schools, political groups and folk festivals. You can reach Ross at Greygoosemusic@aol.com.