Alumnus Creates First Poetry Library in California, Focusing on Works by Poets of Color > News > USC Dornsife

In 2020, Hiram Sims ’05 opened The Sims Library of Poetry, a space for residents of Inglewood and the rest of Los Angeles to read, write, and create.

In short:

  • Hiram Sims came up with the idea for a poetry library while teaching low-income students who couldn’t find poetry books in their local libraries.
  • The library has grown from 300 to over 7,000 books, with a focus on poets of color.
  • Sims wants the library to serve as a place of community and creativity, especially for residents of Inglewood and the surrounding area.

Poetry is homeless.

It is often recited in cafes, parks and bars, its dedicated authors sometimes sleeping on sofas or working long hours to make ends meet. The time to write comes when one should seize those precious few hours of sleep, or during a break between shifts, or that quiet hour after the kids have gone to bed.

Library founder Hiram Sims graduated from USC Dornsife in 2005 with a degree in English. (Photo: Courtesy of Hiram Sims.)

“I wanted to give poetry a home, a space where people in the neighborhood could come and read and write, reflect,” says Hiram Sims, a graduate with a bachelor’s degree in English from USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. in 2005.

To that end, Sims opened the Sims Library of Poetry in 2020, a small building in Inglewood, California that features 7,250 books of poetry, several computers with internet access, and a small private writing room. It is the premier poetry library in the state of California, and most of the books are written by poets of color.

“I live in the neighborhood. And I wanted this space to be part of that community, which is mostly made up of really wonderful black and brown people,” says Sims. “I just felt like it would be a great resource for them.”

Sims explains that the library aims to have a symbolic presence as well as a physical presence.

“Sometimes when you tell people you want to write poetry, they act like it’s a bit trivial. But then you walk into a space like this and you see there are people who take it seriously,” he says. “So for me, I think places like this validate the part of you that feels like doing it.”

Library in a suitcase

Growing up in different apartments in Los Angeles, Sims made time to write where he could get it, often in the bathroom, which provided a quiet, private place to think, he says. He remembers being impressed in college by Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven”. A few years later, after having developed an interest in girls, he would write poems about love and women.

Although he loved poetry, Sims wasn’t sure he wanted to make a career out of it. That changed when he arrived at USC Dornsife and took classes with David St. John, a college professor and professor of English and Comparative Literature. The Sims started thinking about how to write full time.

“He showed me there could be a life and a career in something that I thought was a hobby,” Sims says.

After earning his master’s degree in professional writing from USC Dornsife in 2007, Sims started Urban Poets, a creative writing workshop he ran from his living room. The experience taught her to read and critique the work of others, to encourage them to write new work, and to create a community in the classroom where students cared about each other’s writing. He also started teaching poetry classes at different colleges in the Los Angeles area.

In 2013, Sims founded the Community Literature Initiative, a nonprofit organization dedicated to teaching writers of color how to create and publish books. He struck a deal with USC to teach classes to the public using space provided by the university, which is when he launched the first incarnation of the Sims Library – a small suitcase full of poetry books.

“My students in my classes on the USC campus said they couldn’t do the required readings because they didn’t have access to poetry books,” he explains. “So I decided to put 80 of my own books in this suitcase and bring it to class every week. The students brought one book and took one out.

When a student called the binder the “Sims Library,” the Sims had an idea.

Pulled out of the garage

The Sims Library of Poetry catalog reflects the diversity of his Inglewood, California home. (Photo: Courtesy of Hiram Sims.)

He began thinking about how to spread the poetry to more people, especially those in his community of Inglewood. He started by building shelves in his garage. But when he filled them with the books he had, he felt the space seemed a bit sparse.

“I called all the poets I knew and said, ‘Hey, I’m opening a poetry library in my garage. Would you please come over and donate some books?’” recalls he. On his birthday, July 6, 2019, he hosted an open mic and donation event for poets, family, friends and community members. “At the start of the day, we had my 300 books, but at the end of that day we had 2,000 books of poetry. So it’s really a library created by the poetic community itself.

Soon the small building that housed the day care center where Sims’ wife worked became vacant, and he decided to expand his library to a freestanding location. In the summer of 2020, it moved to the library’s current home on West Florence Avenue.

Over 40% of Inglewood’s population is black and nearly 50% identify as Hispanic. Sims says he aimed for his library to reflect the community it is in by featuring many works by poets of color. He also organized many books by themes that local people might enjoy.

“We have, for example, the best black poets in New York, the best Puerto Rican poets in Florida, but also poems about the feet, poems about the hair. A, eat this poem, it’s half poems, half recipes, where you prepare the food and then eat it while reading the poems,” he explains. There are also several shelves devoted to poets who live in the Inglewood area.

For now, Sims is working on expanding her library’s programs, including after-school and children’s workshops, and teaches poetry classes as an adjunct instructor at USC Dornsife. He is always thinking about the next step in the growth of his creation.

“An Italian built the Watts Towers out of trash – glass bottles, cans and stuff. He said about it, ‘I just knew I wanted to do something big,’ says Sims. ” I can really connect with this longing, this feeling of something in your throat but you can’t get it out. This is the library I have in mind, the one I can’t wait to build. This one .”

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