Storyteller weaves magic at Carson Valley library

Jim Cogan's background set him up to be a storyteller, but it was not until he became an adult that he realized the significance of it.

Coming from a family with seven children in New York, Cogan spent many an hour sitting around the dinner table listening to family members who, in their pronounced New Yorker way, told tales using facial expressions and varying vocal tones to make the stories more interesting.

Cogan thought everyone did this until he struck out on his own - carrying with him his gift.

"It was just part of growing up, what we did at the dinner table," said Cogan, 58. "Then we got out into the rest of the world and realized not everybody was like our family, thank God," he chuckled.

Cogan moved to California at age 13. As an adult, Cogan applied and landed a job working as a naturalist historian in Yosemite National Park for seven years. He attributes his success in getting the job in part to his storytelling ability. While working there he would lead campfire walks and tell stories from history, using his raconteur skills to make the stories more animated.

When he was 29, he moved to Colorado and attended Colorado State University for two years to earn a master's of arts degree in history and get his teaching credential. While in college, he traveled to Germany, acting as master of ceremonies for a United Services Organization show.

"When I came back I realized storytelling is a powerful force," said Cogan.

Cogan said his first "legitimate occupation" was when he became a teacher in 1979, then a principal, working in both Colorado and Idaho for about 10 years.

"That's where I learned the importance of storytelling," said Cogan. "It grabbed all the different learning styles. It was a great bridge to writing."

Cogan's life changed again after he attended a storytelling conference in California.

"I met one of the founders, and she said, 'You need to do this.' I took a sabbatical and I just never went back," he said.

Cogan became a touring storyteller, working at different venues throughout the western U.S.

"I started touring when I lived in Hailey, Idaho," said Cogan. "I traveled across the northwest (Washington, Oregon, and Idaho) in a 1957 school bus converted to a 'Magic Story Bus.' Lived in it, too - with the books, potbellied stove, recording studio, four calling birds, three French hens, something out of a tall tale. Brought it to California in year two of my career where it died, I lived, decided to stay - and never left."

His decision to move to California came to him one day when he was telling stories in a Ketcham, Idaho, bookstore, when (now retired Douglas County School District Superintendent) John Soderman and his wife, Becky, and former Douglas High School principal Charlie Condron and his wife, Gardnerville Elementary School reading specialist Jill Harper, walked in the door.

"Next thing I knew I was on the way to Carson Valley schools to do storytelling," said Cogan.

Now, Cogan lives in San Clemente, Calif., but comes up to Douglas County two to four times a year to do storytelling. On June 29, he appeared at the Douglas County Public Library in Minden as a prelude to a weekend of storytelling throughout Northern Nevada, including entertaining at the Nevada Library Association conference and the Nevada Storyteller's Network storytelling festival "Stories by the Water's Edge" both in Reno on Sunday.

Cogan said one of the good parts of growing up in a large family is he learned to listen, and he encourages children to pay attention to what's going on around them.

"You get these memories and images that stay with you the rest of your life," said Cogan. "It's really the food for storytelling. (If you pay attention) you're going to see the stuff that stories are made of."

On Cogan's Web site it says that his face is "kaleidoscopic ... adding his animated physical presence in the creation of visual imagery, Jim transforms stories into dramatic, if often hilarious adventures. Jim breathes his Irish-American love of language into every tale he tells."

Cogan calls storytelling "the original art of language.

"When it's practiced in that way, it's powerful," he said.

Cogan plans on continuing his storytelling as often as possible in Carson Valley.

He tells stories that appeal to all ages - combining history, folklore, legend, family memories and his own perspective.

"He's consistently, always good," said Douglas County Public Library in Minden's youth services librarian Kathy Echavarria. "He's always fresh, always expressive and always involves the kids. His stories are always different. Children, adults, always get something out of it."

Cogan is available for storytelling festivals, master of ceremonies, conferences and conventions, workshops, community events and programs and school assemblies.

Cogan can be reached at: 2711 Via Bandita, San Clemente, Calif. 92672, or (949) 481-0897.

n Jo Rafferty can be reached at or 782-5121, ext. 210.


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