The following is a guest post by Maura Byrne, who just finished a year-long internship in the Poetry and Literature Center/Literary Initiatives office.
When I completed my AP U.S. History final essay in high school, using the Library’s online database, I never expected I would one day get the chance to intern here. Throughout my college years in Washington, D.C., I have marveled at the Library of Congress’ collections of literature and other forms of knowledge. This institution holds some of the greatest works ever created.
I’ve known that I want to work in the literary industry since I was six and wrote my first poem. It was a silly rhyme about a cat, friends with a bat, that slept on a mat. However, it created a passion that made me strive to improve and learn everything I could about poetry. I started at American University, majoring in literature, in the fall of 2017. I had no idea how I would make a living working with books, but I knew it was the only thing I had ever wanted to do.
As a result, I jumped at the opportunity to apply to the Poetry and Literature Center when my poetry professor told me they were looking for interns. I never expected, though, that I would get an interview, let alone the internship. I certainly did not expect to be able to intern here for almost a full year.
The first day of my internship was the first day I had ever stepped foot in the Library. The architecture astonished me almost as much as its history. I still remember the excitement I felt when I sat down in the poet laureate’s office. So many great poets had sat there before me.
My time at the Library was unconventional to say the least. I worked in the Poetry and Literature Center for just over a month, sitting at a computer and researching past poets laureate in order to create their online resource guides. On breaks, I was given the opportunity to see some of the Library’s treasures: An original draft of Malcolm X’s biography with his handwritten notes. The concept art which planned out where images would sit on the page in the now classic Curious George children’s book.
When I went home for my college’s spring break, however, I did not return. The coronavirus lockdown turned all work remote. I expected to stay at home for two more weeks, then return to the office. Lockdown never ended, though. While in my childhood house in Connecticut, I had to quickly adapt to the virtual world. I set up a VPN on my personal computer that allowed me to access the Library, and I was back to work.
During my three-month internship, I worked to create a modern look for our poet laureate resources. When the time came for my internship to end, it was extended through the summer, allowing me to continue my work. When this summer internship came to its end, it was again extended through December. This time allowed me to finish the project I had started and either publish or submit drafts of resource guides for every writer who has ever held the title of poet laureate.
Many of these were writers I had never heard of but quickly fell in love with: Juan Felipe Herrera. Natasha Trethewey. Robert Hass. Others were writers I worshipped but came to realize I knew almost nothing about, like Louise Glück, the mentor of my favorite poet, Max Ritvo.
I knew little about the position of poet laureate—I assumed it to be an honorary title given to those writers deemed great enough. I knew nothing of the poet laureate projects. When I was given the opportunity to transcribe writers’ commentaries for Joy Harjo’s signature project, “Living Nations, Living Words,” I began to see the importance of national literary positions. Poetry belongs in government. The laureateship is a way to use art to enrich the national perception of important issues. Important peoples.
My time at the Library has taught me the importance of accessible literature and I’m proud of the fact that I was given an opportunity to contribute. The resource guides that I have spent the past year working on open up the world of poetry to the average member of the public. Not only have I learned essential office skills, but my eyes have been opened to the possibilities of the literary industry. I feel prepared to graduate in May, knowing the vast number of jobs available for those with a passion for poetry and how those jobs can impact literary audiences.