CARNEGIE

When I first moved to the island of Dominica, I read every Caribbean book in the Roseau Public Library to acquaint myself with my adopted homeland. Unfortunately, Hurricane Maria ravaged the historic landmark, and up until now, it stands in ruins, roofless and forgotten. Nor has the treasure trove of Caribbean books it contained been replaced. Volume 35 of The Caribbean Writer, a tribute to the late literary icon Kamau Brathwaite, was launched at the Virgin Islands Literary Festival and Book Fair online from April 30 to May 2, 2021 under the theme, “Diasporic Rhythms II: Interrogating the Past; Imagining a Future”. https://www.thecaribbeanwriter.org/2021/04/13/volume-35/ It includes my short story “Carnegie,” written in the voice of the Roseau Public Library, a bittersweet story of the colonial history of the one-hundred-and fifteen-year-old building, which also addresses the its modern day plight.  Here is a brief excerpt.

CARNEGIE (c) Kristine Simelda, 2020

Storm force winds slam loose shutters against my splintered window frames. A few more shards of broken glass litter my rotting floorboards where trash has collected since the last hurricane. Whining, a stray mongrel coaxes her puppies under the abandoned circulation desk while rain streams through my bare rafters. The dog knows what’s left of my skeletal roof will not protect her pups for long. And she’s not the only one concerned. Besides the brittleness of my bones, I’m worried about Reggie, the homeless man who lives in my basement. He and I have been friends for more than fifty years—through good times and bad—and I wonder if we have the combined strength to survive yet another storm.

Allow me to introduce myself. I am the spirit of the Carnegie Free Library, a one-hundred-fifteen-year-old building located on one of the last remaining green spaces in the capital city of Roseau, Dominica. In 1899, I was a mere gleam in the eye of the new Administrator for the Colonial Office, Henry Hesketh Bell. He accomplished much during his six-year stint on the island, and one of his pet projects was the construction of my predecessor, the charming Victoria Library. It was wildly popular with bourgeois island patrons, and Bell yearned to expand it. But England had spent all the money it intended on unprofitable Dominica. So Governor Bell successfully petitioned Andrew Carnegie, an American industrialist and philanthropist, to help build a new and larger library: Me!

On the eleventh day of May,1907, my doors opened to great fanfare. Arches of flowers and palm frond decorations decked my entryway. A brass band played on my manicured lawn. Women in long skirts, gauzy blouses, and wide-brimmed straw hats strolled arm-in-arm around my veranda while a nymph sprayed water into the fountain nestled under the banyan tree. Naturally, I was proud. But in my egalitarian Carnegie heart, I knew something was wrong. My lending library was available to privileged subscribers only—those who could afford to contribute to the perpetuation of the colonial class system. The average Dominican was relegated to the confines of the adjacent reading room, and children were not allowed.

Decades passed. Various curators came and went as I watched in silent fascination. In 1953, when government took over the administration of my services, a horse-faced autocrat, Miss Dibs, ruled the stacks. That’s when I got to know Reginald Loblack, a ragamuffin boy who became my special friend.

*You can read the entire story on this website under “Kristine’s Work_ Shorts, or in Volume 35 of The Caribbean Writer.

Read “Carnegie”