We all know the horrific destruction Hurricane Katrina left in its wake. The images of catastrophic loss, both human and structural, are seared into our memories.
But while we can recall homes and schools and businesses flattened, there are other public institutions that suffered just as greatly.
Maybe we don’t realize that, in addition to all of those devastating losses listed above, libraries, as well, were lost.
I know it might sound stupid, in the face of so much human suffering, to talk about libraries. “Libraries?” I can hear some people saying. “Who the hell cares about libraries when people died in the Superdome and on an overpass in New Orleans?”
As Dan Rather put it, “Libraries have a transformative effect on lives of all ages, the communities in which they reside, and the country as a whole. They were, and still are, civic institutions that welcome anyone who wishes to become a more informed and independent citizen. There is no other public resource that so well encapsulates this aspirational notion of democracy. Through the library, through books, through knowledge, through access to technology, we all can improve to become better, more learned, versions of ourselves and, in turn, be better neighbors to those around us.”
This is why they’re important for everyone. But I knew why they could be life-changing for individuals.
I can still close my eyes and climb the stairs at the downtown public library in Little Rock, Arkansas–they were the slatted kind you could see though! The thrill and frisson of horror that passed through my five-year-old self as I wondered, every time, if I was going to fall through to the floor below! The hush of that room full of books! The scent of pages and pages of stories! The colorful covers revealed when I pulled them from the shelves! The little stools and tables just my size! And the absolute joy of getting to pick five to check out, which I then immediately made my parents read over and over and over the entire week until the next visit.
In elementary and junior high school, libraries became a place of refuge for me. As a target for bullying, I could go to the library and immerse myself in books during recess and lunch and wrap the warm pages of a story around my tiny self, creating a cocoon of safety from the terrible experiences I was having outside that room.
When I moved to Berkeley, California, to go to college, the first place I ventured to, after two weeks of feeling completely overwhelmed by the move, was the Berkeley Public Library, where I promptly read an entire book before walking back home.
So libraries have always been places where I could let go of my fears, walls, and worries and feel truly safe.
When I saw a call to writers for short stories to fill an anthology specifically to help rebuild New Orleans’ public libraries, I knew this was a huge and worthy project I wanted to be a part of.
When I reached the website explaining the requirements for submission, I laughed to see that all the stories had to conform to prompts created by New Orleans librarians themselves! Each librarian requested stories they themselves wanted to read, including character names, specific locations in and about the city, and genre types.
I can tell you, the other authors and I whose stories were lucky enough to be chosen have done our part to make some local people and places famous! Hats off to Tears of the Pheonix for the most innovative and creative fundraising idea I’d seen in a long time!
Ripple Effect is a project I was honored to be accepted into. Both the stories I submitted were chosen for inclusion, and all the proceeds were donated to help rebuild New Orleans public libraries. (Both of them were also chosen to be illustrated, which, let me tell you, is incredible. There is nothing like seeing something you created in your head come to life through someone else’s amazing talent!)
This is a small book with a huge impact. I honestly am so proud to have helped reconstruct the physical places dedicated to helping people “become better, more learned, versions of ourselves and, in turn, better neighbors to those around us.” And with every copy of Ripple Effect sold, a tiny piece of my heart went with the proceeds donated, into the libraries they helped rebuild.
In every building, I hope my love and care touches each person who comes in, needing just a moment of peace and safety.