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ThursdayDecember 2011

Robert Schuster and Katrina Santos!

Robert Schuster and Katrina Santos!

Many congratulations and kudos to the unstoppable duo known around here at Robert Schuster and Katrina Santos, our December Volunteers of the Month! And, it seems like it should be mentioned, WE KNOW how weird the picture is. Catherine had a vision, and this is as close to it as we could get. (We are hoping Robert and Katrina love and embrace the very weirdness of it, and we’re pretty sure they will.)

Robert and Katrina are an incredible powerhouse backbone force. They’re unstoppable ninjas of talent. They’re mighty wordsmiths. They are two of the sweetest, most generous and caring volunteers we have at 826michigan. What!? we hear you exclaim. How can all of this be? Tuck in, friends, and allow us and another celebrity guest VoftheM columnist to explain.

Robert Schuster and Katrina Santos are both former 826michigan interns who now tag team to lead Story Problems, the highly acclaimed* YA prose and poetry 826michigan workshop. Story Problems started meeting on Wednesday evenings last fall and has continued, uninterrupted, for a year. That is, we believe, the longest running workshop in 826michigan history. Robert founded the workshop because he wanted young writers to have the chance to be a part of a writing community, and to get thoughtful and consistent critical feedback on their creative writing — something he wished he’d had as a teenager. Katrina joined him in leading the class after the first semester, and they make a fantastic, highly complimentary pair. Robert feels strongest about working with prose, and Katrina has more experience working with poetry. Robert is an encyclopedia of pop culture, literary, and science fiction references — he can go head to head with any of our students in Dr. Who trivia** or recommend any number of important canonical and non-canonical writers to read. Katrina is calm, cool, and very good at bringing a conversation back to the question at hand. Together, with the help of amazing facilitator Tim, this team combines to form the deathly hallows of writing workshop magic (and we believe this is a good thing, even though it sounds a little scary).

You don’t have to take our word for it, either. Our most prolific student (who’s been with us almost since our inception), Susan L. — also one of the all-star students of Story Problems — has this to say about her workshop leaders:

Robert can always find the gems in a student’s piece. Even if it’s just a rough draft, he can read over it and find something that could potentially be really funny, or really sad, or really interesting. He’s able to pick out the parts that could make the story something really amazing — the parts that could be played up to benefit continuity and flow and mood and just plain fun. The state of the prose doesn’t matter — Robert is able to get to the heart of the story, and figure out what the writer was really trying to say.

Katrina offers more precise critiques, and she’s more careful in catching picky things like punctuation in the wrong place, or a descriptive word that doesn’t fit the mood of the piece overall. She focuses more on the continuity of the piece as a whole — Where is your P.O.V. camera? What were you trying to say in this part? She helps pinpoint places in a story where the continuity is great, and places where it could use some work. Together, Robert and Katrina give some amazing and really helpful critiques! (And some great reading-list suggestions!) They’re just about the best critique-people an aspiring writer could ask for!

The bottom line is — they are both really awesome! And just the fact that they’ve participated in Story Problems and kept it going all this time is seriously amazing.

One of the most touching things about this group is to hear them talk to each other about their stories, novels, and poems — it is clear that these students and volunteers have respect and admiration for each other as writers. Robert has told us on several occasions that leading Story Problems is one of the best things he’s ever done, and we are incredibly grateful for this!

Robert and Katrina have done a great deal of work over the last year in encouraging our students and thoughtfully responding to each piece of student work that is submitted to the group (and, just so you know, our students are prolific. They write A LOT.). They’ve also been fundamentally important to the publication of A Flash of Silver, the newest 826michigan publication that features the talented Story Problems’ voices.

And this is a good time for a plug: Come see the whole group in action next Wednesday, December 7 at 7pm: Story Problems will give a reading at 826michigan to celebrate the launch of A Flash of Silver!

Thank you, Robert and Katrina, for everything you’ve done and continue to do for us! We hope Story Problems lives on FOREVER AND EVER.

* Several writers in the group are award-winning young writers, and several of them are on their way to completing NANOWRIMNO not just once, but twice.

** We think this is one thing that is discussed on a regular basis at Story Problems, but often the conversations are so complicated, it’s difficult for an outsider to completely understand.

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