During National Library Week (April 3-9), Omaha Public Library asked patrons to share their library stories. Local author and journalist Leia Baez shares how her library experiences helped her become the person she is today in this special guest blog post. Find "A Star for Stella: A Mother's Journey to Overcome" in OPL's collection.
I’ll never forget one of my favorite childhood memories and I owe it to the Omaha Public Library.
The year was 1989. I sat with my legs crossed on a round carpet with my first grade classmates at the South Omaha Library near 23rd and M Streets. We were listening to a man talk to us about the importance of reading. But the book he was holding up wasn’t just any book – it was his book. One he had imagined, created and brought to life. He was the first author I had ever met. In fact, that day was actually the first time I truly understood what “author” meant.
I thought it was incredibly cool that his story was on the inside of those pages. He talked about working with an artist to create the illustrations and my seven-year old brain was intrigued. I remember thinking, “Maybe I can write a book someday.”
I locked that moment in and never forgot it. Fast forward to more than 30 years later, and that “someday” became a reality for me. On December 20, 2021, I became a published author. My memoir, A Star for Stella: A Mother’s Journey to Overcome follows my journey after one tragic night turned into years of self-discovery for me. I was a struggling mother, but I refused to give up, fighting my way back from abusive trauma, alcoholism, divorce and losing custody of my only child. These eye-opening trials forced me to re-evaluate my life, my habits, and the kind of role model I wanted to be for my daughter.
As an award-winning newspaper journalist for more than 14 years, I always told other people’s stories. But it wasn’t until I started sharing my own journey of overcoming that I realized the true power of storytelling.
I love to share my passion for writing and books with my daughter, too. When she was just 5-years-old she thought it was awesome to have her own library card, which also doubled as her pretend debit card when she played store at home. She carried her library card with her just about everywhere in a tiny pink-sequined purse. She especially loved using it to check out new books. One of her favorites was Clifford the Big Red Dog. She even got to meet him once at a special event at the Omaha Public Library. Together, we also attended craft events and costume parties at the library. The Omaha Public Library has been a constant place of creativity for us.
Books are so much more than just pages and words – they are opportunities to uplift and empower. Just like libraries are so much more than homes for books – they are places of inspiration, innovation and experiencing what’s possible.
The Omaha Public Library is where my dream to become an author was born, and I’m forever grateful for that experience.