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I just heard that my favorite library has burned. When I got the news I wanted to cry, “Why this library and not another? This library, though old and frail, had so much more to give. Just recently it was set to be given yet another award for its incredible contribution to the world. I can’t help but wonder what my life might have been without this library.

You see, I discovered it when I was just 12 years old. It’s not that I had never seen a library, I remember being rolled into libraries in a red wagon alongside my brother before I even knew what to do. There was something special about this one. This library was beautiful. But not in the way of perfectly painted walls or high pristine ceilings, this library was worn and rough around the edges from a life that hadn’t been too kind. This library was filled with character and boasted stories so captivating that one had to stop.
There was tragedy, triumph and enough resilience to make anyone feel that if the worst were to happen in his own life somehow it would all be okay.
And let’s not forget the words. Words zipping around in circles intertwining reconfiguring decomposing creating new ways to say things old and new. Ultimately, landing on the page like a beautiful symphony. This library was cool in the way that Miles Davis was. I would come to this place every day after school because there really was nothing greater to do.

Then one day I moved to the City and discovered bigger libraries in beautiful places with new books filled with slicker vocabulary, hip hop themes and caviar dreams. Before you know it, I forgot all about that library.

Then babies are born, rent is due, and there’s no time for libraries. Books even seem a luxury from a life lived long ago. I’m in the middle of washing dishes when I get the news that my favorite library has burned. I’m stunned into silence because though I knew it would have to happen one day, because let us not forget this library was old enough to be deemed a historical landmark, I can’t help but feel the loss. I would have visited more had I known that it might not be here forever. RIP MAYA ANGELOU

‘A Library That Burns’ is taken from the African proverb: Every elder that dies is a library that burns.


By Erickka Sy Savané

  • Aja
    May 29, 2014

    When I first looked at this article I had just a quick glance at the title and I thought it was about the library of the Glasgow College of Art school in the old building that burned down last week. It was one of the 4 best examples of Art Nouveau architecture in the world and voted the best designed building in the UK in the past 175 years. My husband cried when he heard the news. He graduated from there, his father, a celebrated Scottish photographer, had a history there, it was part of THEIR city, like part of the family…

    Then I realized the piece was about Maya Angelou. Yet another marvelously designed work of craftsmanship, snuffed away unexpectedly, but no one could say hers was wasted or too soon. Talk about a life lived to the fullest! An inspiration to so many, a consummate artist of words and mental pictures and the epitome of grace and gentleness to be missed and celebrated!

    Rest in peace, she will 🙂

    • Erickka Sy Savané
      March 30, 2016

      Well said, Aja. And how amazing that your hubby would feel the same way about an actual library.

  • sasha
    May 30, 2014

    Wow, this was an amazing piece! I’m reminded of how we need to appreciate the things we love while we are here. I look forward to your next piece, as always.

  • Brandy
    May 30, 2014

    Frankly, this is the most touching, sincere and well written tribute I have seen about Dr. Angelou so far. You are an amazing writer and I have been sharing this poem all over the place.
    Thank you for this.

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