Step inside Sims Library of Poetry

Sims Library of Poetry, a community library in Inglewood, was originally confined to founder Hiram Sims’ suitcase, but grew to fill an entire building after donations from poets and Angelenos. Today, the collection features over 3,000 works, including many from local authors. (Fitz Cain | Daily Trojan)

To passersby on Florence Avenue, one building stands out from the facades. Nestled among the low-slung storefronts is one flat, navy blue structure adorned with two metal-screened windows and a large icon of an open book, “Sims Library of Poetry,” it reads in bold, white letters.

Two murals adorn the property’s front lot. The one facing the street reads, in all caps, “POETRY LIVES HERE.” To the right of the lot, on another blue brick wall, is a painting of poet Langston Hughes accompanied by an altered version of his poem “Dreams.”

Hold fast to Dreams

For when dreams die

Life is a broken winged bird

that cannot fly.

Hold fast to Dreams

For when dreams go

Life is a barren field

covered with snow.

Before Sims Library of Poetry — a community library in Inglewood that offers patrons a space to read, write and perform poetry — moved into its current residence, it lived out of a suitcase then in a garage. But before that, it was a dream in founder Hiram Sims’ head.

“I wanted to put Hughes’ ‘Dreams’ on a wall because I think it’s important for any human being to not only have dreams but to realize that you will have to hold the vision over time to realize it,” Sims said. 

Sims — a 38-year-old Los Angeles native, USC alumnus and poet — first began peddling poetry books by a variety of authors from a suitcase when he taught a poetry class at USC through the Community Literature Initiative. He said his students struggled to find poetry books at local libraries for required reading, but Hiram’s suitcase became a reliable resource for pupils and local poets alike.

After some time and shelf carpentry, Sims decided to expand his collection and open a library in his garage, enlisting friends in the poetry community for help.

“At the beginning of that day, we had my 300 books. All these poets came with boxes. At the end of that day, we had 2,000 books of poetry,” Sims said. “I realized that you could do anything if you could get people to work together.”

Sims Library moved into its current space in the summer of 2020, occupying what was previously a preschool that closed down during the pandemic. It also repurposed its predecessor’s playground into a spongy-floored outdoor patio with couches to stage weekly literary events like workshops, poetry readings and book launches.

Library manager Karo Ska helps organize many of the library’s events. Ska described one recent poetry reading, expressing appreciation for a diverse crowd of newcomers and pointing to events as a source of exposure for the library.

“There were a lot of people that hadn’t been to the library before, so everyone was like, ‘Wait, this place exists? Like, wow, this is amazing,’” Ska said. “That was cool to see people discovering it for the first time.”

Sims Library now holds about 3,000 books. Its collection ranges from vintage copies of classics — such as a second-edition copy of Langston Hughes’ “The Weary Blues” — to one-of-a-kind, handmade periodicals. Many book donations come from Sims’ colleagues in the poetry community and CLI alumni, many of whom are associated with the library.

Sims said he feels grateful to have found people who care about the library, and he’s thankful for patrons, friends and members of the volunteer staff who donate their money, time and labor to the cause.

“If something happened to the library, they would fight to make sure it did not go down,” Sims said. “That, to me, is a greater blessing than $1,000 or 1000 books.”

Sims said one of his goals in opening the library was to encourage people to write poetry, and he believes poets are often discouraged from their artistic ambitions. Many of the library’s volunteers, including Ska, are poets themselves who found Sims Library through CLI classes.

Volunteer Aujrel Pittman said that being part of CLI and Sims Library’s staff helped him realize the potential of his own poetry.

“For me, it allowed me to finally say I can do something professionally with my writing,” Pittman said. “I can take my journal and put it on a shelf at Barnes and Noble … It’s not just, ‘Oh yeah, I’m a writer. I got it back at the house.’”

To further encourage patrons to write, the library also houses a private writing room and work tables with laptops and a printer. Sims said that when visiting other libraries and making plans for his own, he received a wise piece of advice.

“A library is a place for people to do their work. So you have to create elements in your space where people can do their own work,” Sims said. “I thought that was powerful — computers, chairs, books, Wi-Fi, right?”

The library found its home in Inglewood through necessity, Sims said. He promised his students in Fall 2019 that he would move his garage library into a different space by the end of the school year, and the preschool’s closure in 2020 offered him a convenient and affordable opportunity.

Sims also said he lives near the building, so he already knows the local community well. He said he feels particularly validated when new visitors who live nearby come in and express appreciation for the library’s presence, and he’s grateful he can offer the area something new.

“That makes me happy for these Black and brown people to say that they’re proud that we are there,” Sims said. “And, to me, that is indicative of a community, right? When a community says, ‘You’re welcome to be here.’”