Posted by: bluesyemre | November 18, 2018

How #Libraries Can Help #Readers Become #Writers


( r.) David Giffels, David Lucas, and Claire McMillan, CCPL’s writers-in residence.

The Cuyahoga County Public Library’s writer-in-residence program demonstrates the library’s increasingly critical role in our literary ecosystem…

In the days leading up to his scheduled Sept. 16, 2001, visit to the Cleveland Public Library, acclaimed poet Robert Pinsky was stranded in Los Angeles after air travel was restricted following the attacks of 9/11. He was in L.A. taping lines for a guest appearance on The Simpsons, and though he was anxious to return to Boston to meet his new grandson, Pinsky honored his commitment to CPL. And on the first Sunday after 9/11, when churches, synagogues, and mosques around the country were struggling to come to grips with the tragedy and loss of life that had just occurred, the poetry selections Pinsky read for us at CPL transcended grief and offered our community a vision of hope and peace.

I will never forget that day, because I saw firsthand the power of poetry, and because I got to share it with my father. My dad had been visiting Cleveland on 9/11, and he too was stranded, unable to fly back to New York. As part of my job, I oversaw the Sunday programming for the library, and Dad was curious to see whether people would actually attend. He was surprised by the size of the crowd, and even more surprised at how moved he was by Pinsky’s reading. The signed volume of poetry he purchased that day sat at his bedside until his death.

If my first meeting with Pinsky hadn’t been so charged with emotion, I might never have recognized the gift the American people received when he was appointed the 39th poet laureate of the United States in 1997. His Favorite Poem Project inspired more than 18,000 Americans to share their favorite poems and set a new standard for the role of laureates, and writers-in-residence. A brilliant and powerful poet, he also excels as a curator and anthologist. People across the nation, like my father, discover and rediscover the pleasure and power of poetry because of Pinsky.

I recently asked Pinsky about his work as poet laureate. What is it about that position that Americans seemed to appreciate? “On the one hand, we Americans are suckers for anything that sounds British and high-class,” he quipped. “Love them royals! We seem to get more thrill from the sound of ‘laureate’ than ‘consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress,’ which is actually the more democratic, nobler, and more American part of the title.”

Certainly, the Library of Congress, which oversees the poet laureate position, is a unique institution—a treasure trove of national culture. But 46 states and the District of Columbia also have poet laureate positions, and poet laureates and writers-in-residence are also valued at the local level, including in my community.

At my library, the Cuyahoga County Public Library (CCPL) in Ohio, nurturing these roles has long been a priority. And in recent years, my dream of creating a dedicated writing center in one of our branches came to fruition with the support of the William N. Skirball Foundation, the Cleveland Foundation, and Dominion Foundation. Led by librarian and writing program specialist Laurie Kincer, we’ve successfully built community collaborations and programs to activate the space and engage professional and aspiring writers. And among the best ideas for our William N. Skirball Writers’ Center has been the writer-in-residence program.

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