Dovie Thomason is one of the most respected and admired storytellers of her generation. Her ability to craft tales that not only enchant audiences––but also teach invaluable lessons about human nature and indigenous worldviews––has long made her a beloved contributor to schools,organizations and events around the globe. The wry humor and subtle graces that infuse Thomason’s work enable her broad and modern appeal, while a lifetime of study and tradition-bearing ensures the deep cultural roots of her craft remain intact.
Thomason’s journey as a storyteller and artist began with the childhood influence of her Kiowa Apache grandmother Dovie, whose name Thomason proudly carries. From her, Thomason absorbed not only the stories of her paternal ancestors, but also the ‘pan-Indian’ stories her grandmother learned from other children during the boarding school era. These tales were told to Thomason in the traditional way, intended not only to entertain, but also to gently teach and instruct. Imparting everything from practical advice to cultural values, these tales were coated with affection and humor, making them well-loved sources of both amusement and wisdom. These timeless stories would eventually form the core of Thomason’s highly regarded repertoire.
As an adult, Thomason never strayed far from the legacy her grandmother gave her. She graduated college in 1970, obtaining a Bachelor of Arts with a concentration in Native Studies—part of a degree program she developed at a time when Native Studies was not yet offered as a discipline. Following graduate study in secondary education, she began to teach high school students in Ohio, as well as work with urban Indian centers, Headstart and other Indian Education programs. During her time in the classroom, she came to understand that stories were often the most effective way of reaching and respecting learners. This realization confirmed the importance of weaving her grandmother’s lessons together with her formal education, and increased her drive to understand more about her ancestral craft.
Thomason was aided in her desire to study the oral traditions of the First Nations by tribal elders across North America. The work of Vine Deloria (Dakota) was a critical inspiration to her, leading her to the writings of his aunt, Ella Deloria, and Gertrude Bonnin, aka Zitkala-Ša (Nakota). Making the commitment to share these stories publicly was particularly encouraged by the example and direct guidance of Alfonso Ortiz (Tewa). From them, as well as many other seasoned tradition bearers, Thomason honed her understanding of the ancient craft of storytelling. As she traveled, she had the opportunity to learn new tales from neighboring cultures, different interpretations of familiar stories, and the tales of her maternal Lakota ancestors. Learning to convey these stories to audiences young and old, indigenous and non-indigenous, became Thomason’s vocation.
In the three decades following her decision to become a professional storyteller, Thomason’s dedication to sharing indigenous voices has taken her down many roads. She has worked with schools and universities of all stripes, acting as a guest or artist-in-residence for institutions from New England to New Zealand. She has performed keynotes, workshops, and consults for noted organizations, including the National Headstart Conference, TEDx Leadership Conference, the Oral History Association and NASA. Her storytelling has been featured on countless prominent stages, including the Kennedy Center, Smithsonian Museum, London’s Barbican, and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. Thomason has also found the time to work on a variety of special projects, lending her voice to narrations for the BBC, NPR, PBS, RTE, and the National Parks Service. She has also produced award winning audio recordings of her own, receiving the Parent’s Choice Gold Star, the American Library Association’s Editor’s Choice Award, and the Audiofile Earphones. Other notable recognitions include the National Storytelling Network’s ORACLE: Circle of Excellence Award, Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers’ Traditional Storyteller Award, and acknowledgment as a master traditional artist by the National Endowment for the Arts, New England Foundation for the Arts, and Smithsonian Associates.
Most recently, Thomason is preparing to begin her time as the University of Manitoba Centre for Oral Culture and Creative Writing’s writer/storyteller-in-residence for January – March, 2015. The first American to be granted this prestigious appointment, she plans to use it to work on her first young adult fantasy book, as well as mentor undergraduate students. Thomason looks forward to approaching these upcoming projects as she has all others in her career: with good humor and excellent spirits.