Written by Manuel Iris, Writer-in-Residence, Cincinnati & Hamilton County Public Library
Our 2023 Writer-in-Residence, Manuel Iris, is a poet, essayist, and teacher. Attend his upcoming workshops and writers' office hours. And, listen to him as host of CHPL's "Inside the Writer's Head" podcast.
From January to December 2023, I had the honor of serving as Writer-in-Residence for the Cincinnati & Hamilton County Public Library, which has been a source of great pride for me. Representing this network of 41 libraries in different parts of the city, in which more than 800,000 people are offered not only access to books but to many digital resources, as well as workshops, courses, classes, and even help with homework for children and adolescents, it has been a job full of satisfaction. Libraries, especially public libraries, are one of the few spaces in contemporary society that a person can inhabit without being asked to pay for any product or believing in something in particular. Libraries are, I have said before, sanctuaries of human dignity.
I have visited several of the different branches, not only as a Writer-in-Residence but as a user, and I can see that they are not only book archives but community centers. A close example is the West End Branch, which I have visited for more than ten weeks in a row, always finding it full of children and teenagers doing homework, enjoying a free snack, using the internet, taking one of the various courses and workshops always offered there, or simply sharing time with other children.
The work of the West End staff is not easy, since it requires an extra dose of love and patience. These workers, and those of all the other branches of our public library, are people committed to a dignified present and a better future. In historical moments like the ones we live, when empathy and common sense are threatened by belligerent ignorance, a librarian's job is to ignite intelligence and protect hope. My work as a Writer-in-Residence is nothing but a gesture before the daily commitment of each of the employees, at all levels, of our public library system. To all of them I want to say, on behalf of Cincinnati: thank you for what you do. Your work changes, for the better, the lives of thousands of people every day.
For my part, I have done my best to ensure that the Cincinnati & Hamilton County Public Library continues to be seen by the community at large as a home, a place where everyone belongs. I have also tried to get the local Hispanic community and the library closer and help them get to know each other better. Hispanics in Cincinnati already are, we already are, a large, important, and influential community in every sense. With some delay, the city begins to do justice to this reality that stopped being new not many years ago. Little by little, Cincinnati recognizes the features of its current face. Producing content in Spanish has been very important to me, and I am sure that the library will continue (it already did before my arrival) with those efforts.
The year ending has allowed me to have conversations with other writers on the podcast Inside the Writer’s Head. I have also had the opportunity to support many people with their own writing projects, in workshops and office hours. I want to thank every one of them for their trust and time. I have been the one who has learned the most.
Cincinnati is a city that has remained in constant change since its founding. Different waves of migrants have formed the mosaic that I now call my home, and that has named me one of their own. I am certain that the Cincinnati & Hamilton County Public Library is one of the institutions that contributes most, and most substantially, to the identity of the Queen City. Baseball, football, and soccer teams, local restaurant chains, and several well-known products make Cincinnati recognized nationwide and worldwide. Our public library is also a source of great pride. Being its Writer-in-Residence, and the first Hispanic to hold such a position has been a tremendous honor that I do not take lightly. I will continue supporting the public library and this city in as many ways as possible.
Thank you for everything.
Learn more about CHPL’s Writer-in-Residence on our website, opens a new window.