Last weekend I taught a novel-writing workshop at the Robot Supply and Repair Store in Ann Arbor, Michigan—actually, 826 Michigan, an offshoot of Dave Eggers’s 826 Valencia Street, an after-school tutoring program in San Francisco.
All of the offshoots are in are in storefronts and each has a weird little retail business in the front. Why? When Eggers inquired about renting the San Francisco, he was told he couldn’t have a tutoring program there because it was zoned for retail, he said, “Fine. We’ll have a Pirate Store.” So there’s the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Company, the Chicago Undercover Secret Agent Supply Story, the LA Time Travel Mart, The Boston Bigfoot Research Institute and the Seattle Space Travel Supply Store.
Thus, the Robot Supply and Repair Store in Ann Arbor with its robot toys and books and models and key chains and magnets and every other remotely robot kind of thing you can imagine. Plus, anthologies of writing by kids in the program and cool tee-shirts! Of course, I had to buy one of each.
You leave the Robot Store through a dramatic red velvet curtain to see 826Michigan is really about. There’s long room set up with library tables, computers, bookshelves full of books, and robot artwork on the walls. Volunteers staff the drop-in tutoring program every day after school, helping kids with their homework, encouraging them to write for pleasure when it’s done. Volunteers also take 826Michigan projects into the schools, and teach an impressive list of creative writing classes for kids of all ages, taught in the evenings and weekends.
For kids, everything is free. Sometimes, though, 826Michigan sponsors writing workshops for adults and charge a reasonable fee to benefit the program. That’s why I was there.
Lucky me. I’ve done writing workshops in Ann Arbor before and have always been impressed by the lively, generous energy of the writing community there and by the quality of writing submitted for critique. There were ten participants this time, each with the beginning of a novel, and the writing was better than ever. We spent about three hours a day—Friday, Saturday, and Sunday—puzzling over how to make them better than they already were. In between, we heard terrific craft talks by Jack Driscoll and Margo Rabb and publishing tips and cautionary tales from a panel that included Margo, Kathe Koja, Laura Zielin and Karen Simpson. (The first chapter of Karen’s novel, Acts of Grace, set to be released by Plenary Publishing in 2011, was workshopped in a class I taught in A2 a while ago. How cool is that? ) Not to mention wonderful conversation over lunches and dinners in funky Ann Arbor restaurants.
I had a blast. I was so energized I didn’t get one bit tired on the long drive home.
Hey, Keith Hood—writer, board member of 826Michigan, and organizer extraordinaire—thanks for inviting me.
And when do I get to do this again?