Cynthia Schuster has been an active member of Madison’s creative community for decades. For the last 15 years, she has served as the Wisconsin Book Festival’s Volunteer Coordinator.

Schuster started volunteering for the festival in 2007. She became the coordinator in 2009 after the previous coordinator stepped down. As the festival transitioned from a four-day festival to year-round programming, Schuster helped the festival behind the scenes by securing more volunteers to work at events.

As the Volunteer Coordinator, Schuster ensures there are volunteers for every event the Wisconsin Book Festival holds. In 2023, 55 volunteers supported the festival’s four-day Fall Celebration; Schuster organized the volunteer schedule and ensured that every aspect was covered, whether it be tabling or setting up an online stream of an event.

“August [or] September is when we start really hitting the ground running: getting myself briefed on what’s happening operationally in the festival, and then getting the volunteers trained and oriented to what they need to do,” Schuster said.

To Schuster, the friendships and connections are one of the best aspects of volunteering with the Wisconsin Book Festival.

“Building community among volunteers and cultivating that same enjoyment for what the library is doing — I think that’s what I love the most about it,” Schuster said. “We’re building friendships, we’re making memories, and we’re enjoying some great authors at the same time.”

Schuster also navigates where she is needed most. On some festival event days, she’ll work closely with volunteers, and others, she’ll work closely with Festival Director Jane Rotonda.

“You won’t find a more welcoming group of people than those who run the Wisconsin Book Festival,” Schuster said. “Jane Rotonda is not only a warm presence who makes you feel at home, but she curates a lineup that appeals to so many cross-sections of our community. Through that, human connection is built around shared interests.”

Community service is a focal point of Schuster’s career. She serves as Public Information Officer for the Madison Fire Department, a role she has held since 2015. She also coordinates the department’s Occupant Services Unit, which offers assistance to those affected by fires or other disasters.

Before joining the Fire Department, she was a producer, talk show host, and announcer for Wisconsin Public Radio. Schuster still has a music show on WSUM, UW–Madison’s radio station, and a jazz show on WVMO, Monona’s radio station. Her show on WSUM, “Heavy Petting Zoo,” will mark its 19-year anniversary in June.

Additionally, Schuster volunteers at the Dane County Restorative Court (CRC), Nehemiah, and a local community garden. When she’s not working or volunteering, she enjoys reading, gardening, and traveling.

While Schuster enjoys reading nonfiction books — specifically biographies and books about psychology and sociology — her most memorable Wisconsin Book Festival event was when figure skater Adam Rippon spoke about his book, Beautiful on the Outside: A Memoir. A figure skating fan herself, Schuster got to watch the event as an audience member rather than work it.

“The [Madison] Public Library itself has really done a lot to make some pretty amazing authors, poets, and human beings available to the whole community for free,” Schuster said.

“You really get to see a wide variety of folks that come into the library to enjoy it and get to be a part of the celebration.”