Sawyer storyteller: Janet Carter hosts a regular event at Inquiring Mind

Janet Carter telling stories at the Inquiring Mind bookstore on May 28, 2014. (photos by David Gordon)

Janet Carter telling stories at the Inquiring Mind bookstore on May 28, 2014. (photos by David Gordon)

Story night happens the third Friday night of each month at the Inquiring Mind bookstore in Saugerties. Starting at 7 p.m. at the bookstore, 65 Partition Street, local resident Janet Carter and a guest tell stories from literature, mythology and their personal experiences.

Carter has a background in theater, having studied at Yale Drama School. She also holds a doctorate in political science from Columbia University.


During her time in the theater, she performed in summer stock and in tours organized through her school. Many events were in outdoor venues, and rain was always a risk. Her career includes off-Broadway theater and traveling theater.

The summer-stock circuit drew well-known stars, and Carter recalled having performed with Veronica Lake and Tom Aldrich, who starred in The Sopranos. She also toured in a play with Menasha Skulnik, known for his performances in the Yiddish theater.

Living in New Jersey with her husband and their two children Carter taught political science at Montclair State University in New Jersey and Lafayette College in Pennsylvania. Despite having published articles and given guest lectures, she did not receive tenure, she said.

She also served on the board of the charitable Bruner Foundation in the early 1980s, eventually becoming executive director of the organization. By then she was living in New York City, which had a rich story-telling community, “I didn’t tell stories at that time,” she said. “There were interesting things going on in storytelling in New York. There was a woman who told stories in Central Park, and she was very well known.”

When Carter attended a storytelling conference in Tennessee, she tried telling a story there. She found that she had a talent for it. She went to a storytelling event in Connecticut, “and I told something.”

When she moved to Saugerties, she looked for a place to tell stories. “I knew I needed a venue, and I walked into the bookstore, and I asked Brian Donoghue, the owner, if I could come and tell, and he said, Sure. The staff always made me feel they were on my side. They were wonderfully welcoming. It just kind of took off.” Carter praised the bookstore as a community resource, making space available for speakers, authors and musicians.

Carter’s background in acting influences her storytelling. She dramatizes her stories through facial expressions, movement and dramatic voicing. An actor must be aware of the others in the cast, she noted. It’s important for the actors to be sure to carry their weight in the performance. This does not allow for direct contact with the audience.

Storytelling is more intimate. The teller can be more in tune with the audience, looking directly at them, rather than at an imaginary wall on the set.

In an article she wrote for a publication for her storytellers, Carter reminded them, “Remember you are in a store, your needs do not come first.” She recalled a club meeting at the bookstore that was very noisy, creating an uncomfortable atmosphere for the patrons.

Carter ends the storytelling sessions by a quarter to nine, so the staff doesn’t have to stay late to close up.

Some of the storytellers she has had as guests in the bookstore are well-known in the region. Saugerties people such as Ze’ev Willy Neumann, Wendy Weinrich and Maggie Green have told stories there. Karen Pillsworth, billed as the storyteller laureate of Kingston, has joined Carter in storytelling on several occasions.

In addition to her gig at the bookstore, Carter has told stories at domestic violence shelters, prisons, churches, senior citizens’ centers and community gatherings. She has traveled afield to tell stories, including at the Irish-American Heritage Museum in Albany and Proctor’s Story Circle in Schenectady.

She now lives in Cantines Island, the cohousing community in Saugerties. Cohousing is based on a model that combines elements of communes with private homes developed in Denmark. Carter became acquainted with this style of living while staying with friends in Denmark. One feature Carter found particularly important was the sharing of meals, which maintains the sense of community.

The bookstore offers a cozy area for storytelling with a sofa and easy chairs. Tables are moved aside, and many of the sessions are filmed. Carter’s storytelling can be seen on YouTube; put “Janet Carter storyteller” in the YouTube search box.