Judith Black, Brother Blue and Ruth Hill Storytelling Award Recipient

Judith Black is the 2016 Brother Blue and Ruth Hill Storytelling Award Recipient at Sharing the Fire Storytelling Conference. by Tony Toledo

Judith Black is this year’s Brother Blue and Ruth Hill Storytelling Award recipient. It was such great honor for KR Glickman and me to present this award to her. We nominated Judith for this award in 2014. Past nominations are considered in future years for this fine, fine award (so if you nominated someone this spring know that for next year they’ll still be in the running). The person, or in our case people, who wrote the first letter nomination are then asked to present the award at Sharing the Fire. The LANES board makes the very hard decision of choosing who should be given this from many, many worthy nominations. It’s a wonderful reason to volunteer to be on the LANES board.

I was so excited to present this to Judith that I forgot to give the history of this award so that first time attendees would get the briefest of over views and understand that this award is wrapped in honor. I forgot to say this Brother Blue and Ruth Hill Storytelling Award recognizes a member of a our New England LANES community for their storytelling artistry, support of the art and general big heartedness. I forgot to explain that Brother Blue ate, breathed and lived story from the middle of the middle of him to the middle of the middle of you. I forgot to say that Brother Blue lived in the land of story and that Ruth Hill was the anchor that kept him grounded in this world of rocks and rain. I forgot to say that together Ruth and Blue were story farmers planting 10,000 seeds of hope, story, community and caring. I forgot to say that every time Brother Blue heard a story he said, “That is God talking. Ahhhh!” I forgot to say that every time Ruth Hill heard a story her eyes would shine with understanding. I forgot to say that this award connects winners forever with an invisible thread to Brother Blue and Ruth Hill. I forgot to say this simple thread becomes such a treasure. I hope you will forgive me for dropping that ball in my great excitement.

The request from the LANES Board (I took it as only a minimum request not a maximum one) was for 3 other letters of support in our storytelling community. KR and I asked an entire bus load of storytellers across New England for letters of support. Their response was universal, “What? You mean Judith wasn’t given this award years ago???” A flood of letters poured in all proclaiming from the roof tops that they supported Judith Black, that they love her storytelling and even more love her. Writing a letter of support for Judith for this coveted award was the least they could do.

When I got the call that that KR and I were to asked to present this award I was sworn to secrecy by LANES Board President Hope Lewis not to tell a soul. So I didn’t until 5:45 pm last Saturday. As the STF attendees were upstairs on the 10th floor of the UMass Amherst Hotel enjoying their banquet supper Judith was downstairs in the first floor in the auditorium doing mic checks and calming the nerves of the Olio Storytellers. You see, she was to be the EMCEE for the evening Olio. Papa Joe was running the sound, helping with microphones and all such things electronic. I deputized Papa Joe telling him Judith would be getting this award, mums the word, and he must make sure she was upstairs by 6:15 pm. He saluted and said, “Mission Accepted, Sir.” I am eternally grateful to Papa Joe. I don’t know what he said to her but Papa Joe got Judith upstairs on time. She even had a chance to eat supper.

When it came time to present this award I asked all the past Brother Blue and Ruth Hill Award recipients who were here to make a line on the stage.

In presenting this award I did my best to paint the tiniest of picture of the glory of Judith Black in the two minutes I was allotted. I spoke of her telling stories in Stockholm, Sweden, in Beijing, China, at the National Storytelling Festival and at little ole Speak Up Spoken Word Open Mic just down the road from her in Lynn, MA. I spoke about her cooking supper for homeless folks in Salem on the fourth Thursday of the month for the last 30 years. She made supper for 100 folks with the same care she gave to invited guests at her Passover dinners. I spoke of her outstanding tomatoes and her great discipline in her story craft. I praised her classes where she taught folks how to tell stories to children. I said her skill at teaching folks how to tell their own personal story was a glorious gift. I said I don’t always think of a storyteller but when I do I always think of Judith Black. I forgot to say that Judith was the first storyteller I ever heard. She inspired me to become a storyteller. I am sure she has inspired many of you too.

Judith certainly inspired KR. KR said that Judith helped her for a year to put together KR’s one woman show “Searching for My True Voice: One Deaf Woman’s Story”. Help is not a strong enough word. Judith directed the show, changed KR’s ASL story into words so the hearing folks would truly understand more of KR’s Deaf World. This came at a time when KR was between jobs. Her spirit was low. Judith gave KR back true self. Judith helped KR more in one year than I have helped all my friends in my whole life time. How do you say thank you for such friendship? One way is to nominate Judith for this award.

When it came time to present the actual plaque we invited Judith Black to come to the stage. The plaque was then handed down the line of past award winners. Onawumi Jean Moss wisely started us saying, “Ahhhhhh!” calling the spirit of Brother Blue to be with us. In this line there were represented three past award winners who have since passed on. Special folks who knew them joined the line holding up their photos. Bruce Marcus held up Kevin Brooks’ photo. Kate Carney held Barbara Lipke’s photo. Of course Ruth Hill held up Brother Blue’s photo. My eyes are misting up just remembering them. We honor them all, we celebrate them all, we remember them all, as we passed this award to Judith Black.

Judith received this award and weeping said, “Thank you all so much. What a wonderful community. I am so honored.”

Afterwards two people told me the passing of the plaque reminded them of the passing of the Torah from Generation to Generation. Another person said it reminded them of the Stanley Cup.

We are honored to have Judith Black, such a vital storyteller, in our New England community.

Congratulations, Judith Black! 2016 Brother Blue and Ruth Hill Storytelling Award Recipient!

You are invited to send your congratulations to Judith Black. You can send a card to her at Judith Black, 33 Prospect Street
Marblehead MA 01945, or email her at jb@storiesalive.com. Heck, you can even leave a message on her landline at 781-631-4417. At the Banquet there were postcards on each table. Folks were invited to write words of celebration to Judith Black. Many, many folks did. Kind words are always such a welcome gift. I hope you’ll send yours to Judith.

ciao, Tony Toledo, Storyteller, Beverly MA, April 4, 2016

Past Brother Blue and Ruth Hill Storytelling Award Winners
2016 — Judith Black
2015 – Kate Dudding and Joe Doolittle
2014 – Tony Toledo
2013 – Jo Radner
2012 – Laura Packer and Kevin Brooks
2011 – Robert Smyth
2010 – MASSMOUTH – Founders Andrea Lovett, Doria Hughes,
Norah Dooley, and Stu Mendelson
2009 – Karen Chace
2008 – Ann Shapiro
2007 – Onawumi Jean Moss
2006 – Glenn Morrow
2005 – Peg O’Sullivan
2004 – Barbara Lipke
2003 – George Radcliffe
2002 – Brother Blue and Ruth Hill


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