Until a few weeks ago you could find Robert Babs, a Seattle native and self-professed “lit nerd,” behind the scenes helping to organize Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra’s Marrowstone Music Festival. Robert is a passionate arts administrator with years of experience working on a variety of educational and outreach programs within the arts community in Seattle and beyond.
Though you’ll likely continue to find him near an instrument (he plays the viola and violin primarily), Robert now calls Hugo House his home away from home. As the Youth Programs Coordinator, he started just in time; we’re getting ready for one of our biggest youth programs of the year: Scribes summer writing camps.
The first Scribes camp session of the year starts July 9. What’s your elevator speech to describe this program to the uninitiated?
Scribes is a wonderful opportunity for students to stay academically challenged (but also enjoy themselves) over the summer! The program includes instruction from accomplished writers, field trips, writing activities, and craft exercises. This sort of summer engagement is perfect for those already involved in any sort of creative writing or poetry group. But I’m sure that there are many other students who would enjoy and greatly benefit from a focused, supportive place to hone their writing skills and explore their creativity.
You attended Stage Fright, our open mic for youth, last night. What can you tell us about that event?
That was actually the first Hugo House event I attended as the Youth Programs Coordinator. As someone who doesn’t at all consider himself a writer — at least, not in the way that most of the staff here are — I fully expected to be impressed by anyone who read their work. That turned out to be true. What I didn’t anticipate was being so deeply moved, inspired, and made to feel a whole other range of emotions by each of the students who participated.
It was clear that some of them weren’t entirely as comfortable reading in front of people as others, which is common for some young people. However, each one, whether they were reading a poem or part of a short story they’re working on, definitely made an impact on me! I’m sad that it was the last one until next year. I can’t wait to be more involved as time goes on.
So many people who come through our doors — be they a staff member, student, or teacher — have a formative Hugo House story. What was your first impression of Hugo House?
I was so fortunate to benefit from Hugo House’s youth writing programs. When I was a student at Hawthorne Elementary School in early 2000, I twice got to read my work on Hugo House’s stage alongside other classmates who had been selected for the same privilege. Even though I’m not now, nor have I ever been, much of a writer, that experience stayed with me. I know firsthand the House to be the kind of place that has the ability to make lasting impressions on the community — particularly its youth — through the literary arts.
Our youth programs bring together such a diverse group of kids, whether they’re experienced writers or not. Why do you think our mission continues to resonate with so many young people?
In my life and career, I’ve found that more often than not, it’s not all that difficult to get people interested in programs like ours, which are educational and fun! But the important part is letting as many people as possible know that we have something wonderful to provide. Successful outreach is about making connections and getting to know people as best I can — getting to know their backgrounds and interests. It’s neither my nor Hugo House’s goal to simply fill classes and make money. What we offer can truly be a transformative experience for those involved.
Exposure is such an important part of human development in so many different ways, especially for young people who are still figuring out who they are and what they like. It’s an important job to do whatever we can to help them along in that process. One of our core beliefs is that writing is an essential tool in helping people explore possibilities. I believe that’s true for those who haven’t yet discovered what writing can open up in themselves. I can think of no better place to jump into that world and sharpen those skills than Hugo House with its myriad of classes and caring, experienced instructors.
What’s a book you’d press into every teenager’s hands if you could?
Shakespeare! An anthology of Shakespeare. At least up to around 1603 (the juvenilia), which is mostly the comedies such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream and classics like Romeo and Juliet.
As for something slightly more contemporary: Kindred by Octavia E. Butler is an incredible read and one of the most memorable books I read when I was in high school. It’s a literary adventure I still think about to this day.
Anything else the world should know about you?
Much of my professional experience has been in the performing arts such as music and dance. In that way, Hugo House is a very different sort of place for me. However, as someone who has worked primarily in education and outreach programs within those other arts organizations, my position here and the overall goals of Hugo House are indeed quite similar.
What it boils down to is doing what we can as an organization to provide all who come here (youth in particular) with quality and meaningful artistic experiences. Hugo House’s mission of being a place to read words, hear words, and make your own words better makes it the sort of place I’m proud to be a part of.
You can reach Robert with all your youth program questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Molly Woolbright is the Communications and Marketing Manager at Hugo House. For press inquiries or to get in touch, write to her at email@example.com.