Keast on the Quill

Teacher Robert Keast takes to the pen to write first novel about hope, determination

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After eighteen years of teaching his students about books and literature, teacher and former news reporter Robert Keast decided to take on his own book about an autistic man who had to overcome struggles to obtain a dream.
“The book is about Anthony’s memoir, [and] growing up with autism,” Keast said. It’s kind of a mix of finding his place in his school and finding his place in his family, and just some of the challenges he had to overcome academically and socially because of his autism [but] it’s also about his love of sports,”
The book’s title is Centered, which is told from the perspective of Anthony Ianni, a man who was diagnosed as a toddler with pervasive developmental disorder, a form of autism. Ianni had a dream of playing Division I basketball at Michigan State University, and nothing was going to stop him from achieving it.
“[The title is] a play on words. Anthony has always always always been very, very tall, and he’s six foot nine. So he has always played the position of center in basketball. [Also] the book is in part not just about him, but about everybody in his life. Who didn’t give up on him, everybody who kind of raised the bar for him so that he could accomplish as much as possible,” Keast said. “So the book is about the coaches who kept him kind of centered and focused and grounded. And the teachers, the coaches, the parents, his family is a super supportive family who really advocated for him from day one.”
“Michigan State was always his dream school, and sometimes he’s kind of compared with Rudy, if you’ve seen the movie Rudy, his dream is to go play football for Notre Dame, and everybody’s telling him that’s a ridiculous goal you’ll never play for Notre Dame,” Keast said.
Tom Izzo begins the book with the foreword where he talks about his viewpoint of the life of Ianni, begins when he first met Ianni and continues the theme of passion by talking about how Ianni was one of the harder working members on the basketball team.
“[Having Izzo write the forward] gives the book a little bit more credibility because…, in the world of college basketball, Tom Izzo is a pretty big name. He’s a legendary coach. Having Tom Izzo sort of endorse the book just gives Anthony a little bit more credibility in terms of as a writer and as a speaker,” Keast said. “It also lets the audience know that this is going to be a Michigan State story.”
Keast met Ianni through a woman named Susan Hall. Hall is the cousin of Keast and a former teacher of Ianni in the Okemos School District. Hall contacted Keast after hearing about Ianni trying to write this story, Hall believed that he had something to bring to the table for this book. Ianni and Hall have been in contact ever since she had him as a student.
Keast referenced that most of his writing process he discussed in an article he wrote titled 8 tips for co-writers to create an authentic voice for their book for the Writer’s Digest on September 7.
“If your writing project has a “subject” (Anthony, in our case) and a “co-writer” (Rob, for us), make sure every page has what we thought of as an “anchor sentence,” Keast wrote. “Even when the co-writer writes a lot of a particular scene, at least one full sentence per page should be, verbatim, something the subject either said or wrote.”
Keast and Ianni were co-writers of this book as it was more of a collaboration piece. Keast would sit and listen to Ianni and his stories while a digital transcribing service would transcribe them to simplify that process.
Keast mentioned that as time went on it was easier to get Ianni to get his storytelling in a readable way, which made the writing process a lot easier in the end. Keast did most of the computer writing, while Ianni did most of the story telling, the organization of the book was done by both of them.
In an article written in the Writer’s Digest, Keast mentions that before they began writing, the two had to get to know each other. Keast also attended Michigan State, and claimed that swapping stories was one of the easiest ways to learn about each other.
“I went to Michigan State so all the stuff that’s about his passion for Michigan State is something I can connect with,” Keast said. “Anytime we’re talking about things that happen on campus, like I can picture because I’ve been there too,”
This book was written over a course of multiple summers, since Keast had an everyday job of being a teacher. Keast would break up his summers so that the first draft was done by the first summer and the second draft was done by the next summer.
“There were days where 1000 words was like that,” Keast said while snapping his fingers. “Those were really fun. But then there were days where it was just so hard. Every word was a labor, but then at the end of it, I was able to somehow finally get a really good couple of pages together.”
Keast hopes that his book can be for everyone, not just for kids or athletes on the autism spectrum. He hopes that anyone can learn something from this book.
“If you’re not really someone who has been touched by autism or directly impacted by autism, you can still like the book even if you don’t check all the boxes,” Keast said. “We were hoping people could relate to it, even if their sport is not basketball. If there was any goal someone said was realistic.”
Ianni and Keast’s writing journey is not done just yet. They have decided to write a second book. This book instead of being about Ianni will share stories from multiple people around the world that have had to overcome struggles on a daily basis to get to where they are.
“We’ve got a second book going, where I’ve probably interviewed close to 50 people. And it’s a kind of an even mix of interviewing athletes themselves on the autism spectrum, interviewing their parents, and kind of asking them, you know, what was it like as a parent, what do you remember the experience?” Keast said. “And then in many cases, we’ve actually got a coach to what was the like coaching them? What have you learned and what would you recommend to other coaches? Do you have any inspiration and like memorable stories with that athlete?”