Editor's Note: The following originally appeared as part of the "Penfolk of the Downtown Writers Center" series. It is used with the permission of the Arts Branch of the YMCA of Greater Syracuse.
It doesn’t take a great deal of research to uncover Rob Enslin’s interests. They’ve been listed as coffee, hockey, music, figure drawing, model trains and fire trucks.
Oh, and then there’s his writing.
Currently, Rob is a communications manager for Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Sciences, where he writes about anything and anyone, from particle physics and algebraic geometry to a 100-year-old World War II veteran to the Standing Rock situation in North Dakota.
“The first thing I remember writing, I was nine or ten years old, was a letter to the captain of the Horsham Fire Company, near where I lived in Pennsylvania. I asked him if I could help wash the fire trucks or walk the dog.”
Philadelphia born and raised, educated primarily in Atlanta, he’s been writing professionally since his days in college, with work appearing in a number of Georgia publications, including the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Also XXL and essence magazines.
Then, too, Rob’s a trombonist. From college on, he's played in a number of bands and orchestras, opened for or played with James Brown, Dave Grusin and Dr. Lonnie Smith. During his years as a record producer/artist and repertoire man for Atlanta record company Intersound, he worked on hundreds of albums, spanning classical, jazz, rock and country, and wrote liner notes for a good many of them, too. He also toured and recorded, while working as a freelance writer. Among the people he profiled were Garrison Keillor, Isaac Hayes, Curtis Mayfield, Itzhak Perlman and members of the Atlanta Symphony.
And the words keep coming.
Recently, Rob’s been at his keyboard writing program notes for a concert that includes music by Giovanni Gabrielli. And the background of “Jingle Bells.”
He also co-authored the memoir of Rochester’s esteemed jazz musician and educator, Ned Corman: “Now’s the Time: A Story of Music, Education and Advocacy” (Epigraph, 2014).
Even closer to home, for the literary journal Stone Canoe, now published by the YMCA's Downtown Writers Center, Rob wrote what must be the definitive chronology of major writers who have been part of Syracuse’s M.F.A. Program in Creative Writing.
“They date from the turn of the 20th century,” Rob says. “From Stephen Crane, before his ‘Red Badge of Courage’ days, to Raymond Carver, Mary Karr, Tobias Wolfe, George Saunders."
He finds it a bit ironic that “while I don’t consider myself a creative writer—I’m a journalist, really—I continually write about creative writers.”
Rob’s done plenty of word work for the DWC. “Publicity, promotion, newsletters, stories, profiles of writers, meeting minutes.”
And helped with a strategic and comprehensive communications plan for the DWC.
For six years, he served on the board of directors of the center’s parent organization, the YMCA Arts Branch. Two years as chairman.
“What struck me about the DWC is the strong connection it could have with the Syracuse University Humanities Center. We set up a meeting. From that came an annual fall event, in which a visiting author at the DWC does a reading at the Syracuse Symposium. Usually, a seminar follows the next day.”
Rob also worked on the DWC’s first CNY Book Awards, now in its fifth year. The program honors poets, writers and nonfiction authors from the Syracuse area. He’s proud of that, too.
Perhaps the most meaningful aspect of the DWC, for Rob, is the Young Authors Academy (YAA). Created and directed by Georgia Popoff, it offers free workshops and guidance to junior high and high school kids who want to write. The help goes beyond instruction. “They have a wonderful faculty. They make the students feel empowered, and, more importantly, safe. They can say or write almost anything.”
Rob’s daughter Isabelle has been with YAA for three years. “And she loves it—learning the art of short-story writing. The program has given her confidence. I know she feels good about it. She can go there and be herself. And not be judged for it.
“She enjoys it so much [that] I can use it as leverage if she misbehaves. ‘If you don’t shape up, you’re not going to Young Authors this week.’”
What does Rob Enslin enjoy?
“Tooting my trombone. And figure drawing. Yeah, I love art, love to study line, shape, form. Even more, I simply love the touch of pen or pencil to paper. That engrossing tactile pleasure.”
The most difficult challenge in writing?
“Writing about someone or something that's been written extensively about before. What new thought or perspective can I bring to the subject?”
Ever been blocked?
“Sometimes I just need to get away from my computer. Need to have fun. Feel young again. That’s when I strap on my hockey skates. Or get my toy trains out of the attic.”
And the fire trucks?
“You see a fire truck, all shiny and red. It hits you at a primal level. You’re transported to being 12 again—Hey, did you see that one go by?"