Cotati’s Fairlee fascinates with great storytelling
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By Natalie Gray  July 19, 2013 12:00 am

Once upon a time, there lived a Cotati resident who dedicated her time to proving stories were not just for children. 

Cathryn Fairlee has spent time as a history major, Healdsburg school librarian and world traveler, but claims she was always a storyteller, even before she knew of the name to call herself.

Now, she is a well-respected and recognized storyteller, a member of multiple story-telling associations, including Storytelling Association of California and Storytellers of Canada and is the winner of the Storytelling World Award for her multiple storytelling CDs. She has also received the Pegasus Award and the iParenting Media award. She has been a professional storyteller since 1982, telling stories at festivals, schools, libraries, at private events and from her own home. She also teaches classes and workshops on storytelling.

What may surprise those outside the storytelling world or have never gotten or taken the opportunity to listen in, is Fairlee excels at telling stories to adult audiences.

“Storytelling is in all our vocabulary, but none of our definition is correct,” said Fairlee in a phone interview. “(The common definition) of storytelling is so narrow. Storytelling is broad, physical, musical…it can be religious, romantic, intellectual. You have no idea (what storytelling is) until you come to experience it.”

It was while she was serving as a librarian in Healdsburg that Fairlee first began honing her storytelling career, though she did not know that was what she was doing at the time.  As Fairlee explained, it is not uncommon for librarians to read books to children while simultaneously holding the book up to show the pictures. Fairlee, who was active in an acting community, was never a fan of the method and instead took the time to memorize the story and tell the children that way.

She carried on with this method when she became a librarian for a junior high school in Healdsburg, where she was told children of that age would not be interested in listening to stories. She accepted the statement as a challenge and incorporated Civil War ghost stories into a history class. As she had hoped, the students were engrossed by the stories and, thus, the surrounding history.

“(Storytelling) is not for pure entertainment,” said Fairlee. “It’s very useful for teaching…it’s history in story form.” 

Fairlee also added that she believes history teachers should try to incorporate storytelling more into their curricular, for it gives students a taste of the culture they are studying.

And Fairlee has tasted almost every culture out there and is still hungry for more. She has traveled around the world, visiting such destinations as China, Ireland and India, and she speaks Spanish and Chinese. Fairlee said she is fascinated with anything and everything and would find it impossible to choose a favorite location and says she still has many places she still needs to visit.

During her travels, Fairlee spends her time sampling culture and spending time with fellow tellers, where she gathers new story material. Currently, she is working on a new CD of stories that is to feature Chinese-to-English translated stories. Of these stories, few have actually ever been translated before. Though Fairlee found her own storytelling roots with children, she prefers to tell to adults, having a plethora of stories, epics and legends that are better suited for older crowds. Some of these tales are the original stories to inspire Disney classics, only they include the battles, religion and sensuality that Disney left out.  But, just as with stories intended for younger audiences, these tales have the ability to evoke imagination and inspire.

Fairlee is still traveling the world with her husband and is currently living in Cotati.  From her home, Fairlee performs and holds “Epic Days,” twice a year. Fairlee is also an active singer and holds concerts out of her home as well as incorporates songs into her stories. She is also available for storytelling and teaching through her webpage www.sonic.net/~cfair. 

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