If anyone had told me two years ago that I would be starting a whole new career in storytelling, I would have told them that they were out of their minds!! I mean, what did I know about storytelling? Nevertheless, after I had gotten laid off from my youth services position due to budget cuts, I was uncertain about my future. Deliverance came in the form of my father, of all people, who told me about a storytelling position, which had become available in the Recreation Department of the City of Detroit. The position had been created for a series of after school programs to enrich the lives of inner city school kids in particularly bad areas of the city. I had the interview and was hired on the spot and given my assignment. What followed changed my life forever in the most positive way !!!
The first day I was ushered rather unceremoniously into a small classroom and waited for the rush of children which I had been told were on their way to see me. After the children had rushed into the room like floodwaters, their excitement finally subsided and there I was, standing before a room, full of eager and excited middle schoolers. I don’t remember what story I told that first day, all I know is that they really enjoyed their experience and I had begun an entirely new career.
My family had always instilled in me the joy and love of reading. In fact, it was my mother who gave me this observation which I include in my work with creating young storytellers: “Roberto,” she said, “remember one thing…you’re never alone when you have a book for a friend.” From this background, I decided early on in my life that I wanted to be involved in the Arts—theatre in particular. For years I had studied acting in school and when I went to university, I majored in Theatre. Following graduation, I tried to find work in the erratic world of acting. What followed for the next ten years was a series of disappointments and menial jobs in retail with the occasional acting job in dinner theatre and small theatre companies. When I hit my early thirties, I had my first midlife crisis and decided to go back to school and get a Masters of Science in Library and Information Science from Wayne State University ion Detroit, Michigan, with a specialization in Archival Administration. After graduation I got my first archival job at Wayne State University’s Folklore Archive where I had reams of original research papers on a variety of different subjects. Stories, personal anecdotes, folkways and other folklore-related materials filled my working hours. Unfortunately, due to budget cuts and indifference from the English Department, the Folklore archive closed its doors and the rich collection was broken up and put into storage.
When I finally got a job in youth services I found that story reading, finger plays and songs brought me in touch with my creative nature once again and I found that it was just a short jump from being a youth services librarian to being a professional storyteller. When I work with my kids (they sometimes really feel like my own, but they’re not), I tell them that the first and most important thing a storyteller does is read, read, read. By telling them this, I begin the first step in fostering good reading and writing skills. One of the greatest charges I get from storytelling is the appreciation and joy I see in their eyes. And if I leave for a brief vacation, they scream and say “We missed you!!!” Each time I walk down the hall now at my favorite school, I hear the kids whisper to each other, “There’s the storyteller…he’s really cool!!!” And I just smile and walk on down the hall knowing that I’ve made a difference in their lives.