Vermont oral storyteller puts it in writing

Friday November 2, 2012

ARLINGTON -- In a career that spanned three decades, crossed continents and earned national awards, Vermont storyteller Tom Weakley entertained adult and family audiences throughout New England and beyond. His down-home, poignant and often hilarious stories celebrate the wit, wisdom, history and foibles of his family and Vermont

In the past several months Tom has undertaken the revision of several of his oral works to be read in his new 200-page book called "Tom Weakley -- The Stories."

After revisiting the more than one hundred stories in his repertoire he chose twenty audience favorites. The new collection includes familiar characters like Tommy, who wouldn't come when called; Mary Olson, whose teenage figure awed the boys of Prendergast Street; Bucky Grimm, who found the perfect black suit; Mr. Furlong, the Peeping Tom; and Great Aunt Florence whose casket just called for something to be "The book took more time than I thought it would," Weakley said. "Stories that sound fine when delivered from the stage need a little massaging to engage the reader. As a performer I conveyed much of each story with my hands, facial expressions, body movement, tone of voice.

"As a case in point, the story Deer Eyes was delivered as a monologue on the stage. I couldn't make it jell in print until I rewrote it as a drama for two voices."

The book introduces a novella-length piece too long for performance. Esther tells the story of two generations in the secret life of a death-haunted Vermont family.

Many stories are set in Jamestown, N.Y., Weakley's birthplace. He graduated from the Syracuse University School of Journalism in 1951. Denied the Conscientious Objector status he sought, he was subsequently drafted into the U.S. Marine Corps where he served during the Korean War.

After the war he married Barbara Ann Campbell of Floral Park, Long Island and wrote for an advertising trade magazine in Manhattan. The couple moved to Vermont in 1958 to try their hand at making candles in antique candle moulds, a kitchen-centered enterprise that was to expand into the Candle Mill Village shops in East Arlington.

The business prospered and began to require energies devoted more to management rather than the creative, so in 1981 Tom began to focus on writing and performing his stories.

His interest in storytelling was aroused when he discovered that the youngsters in his Sunday school class paid closer attention to his teachings when they were received in the form of a story. He began looking for a storytelling teacher and found one in Saratoga Springs, attending his first workshop in the Adirondacks that fall.

He continued to work closely with this storyteller/coach, Jeannine Laverty, attending her workshops for many years.

As storytelling began to fill the creative part of his life he wanted to divest himself of the business he and his wife had built up and in 1990 Candle Mill Village was sold to one of the employees.

The storyteller has performed in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth, Australia. He recorded his performances on six CDs, three of which received national awards. He was twice invited to appear at The National Storytelling Festival in Tennessee.

In 2002 he spent two weeks in Dominica interviewing and recording native storytellers. A year later First Lady Laura Bush invited him to perform at the National Book Festival on the Washington Mall.

Weakley retired from the stage in a farewell performance at The Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs in 2008. He and his wife, Barbara, live in Arlington.

The new book is published under the name Highland Publications in Arlington.


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