It was on the shelves of the humble Forbes Public Library in western New South Wales that Sarah-Jane Burton made a discovery that would shape the course of her professional life.

A bookish country girl and proud Wiradjuri woman who would become the first in her family to attend university, Dr Burton remembers spending hours in the library picking out books to take home.

“That’s where I discovered poetry, and I remember being about 14 and I came across a book by Sylvia Plath,” the academic says.

“She had a realness and a beauty in her writing that I just connected with. It was like magic to me. It’s been a long love story.”

Dr Burton’s lifelong love of American poets like Plath would lead her far away from home – first to Wollongong to study, then eventually to the hallowed halls of Harvard and Massachusetts’ Smith College, the alma mater of her literary hero.

Along the way, life – and her interest in magazines and feature writing – intervened to steer her career in different directions, but her love of poetry and libraries always prevailed.

Dr Burton chose UOW after a trip to the university with her school. Like many students, she remembers being “blown away” by the lush green campus and was attracted to the close-knit community of the Arts and Creative Arts schools.

After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts, she thought she was done with study and quickly landed her first paid job at Pacific Magazines in Sydney.

But even as she lived out her new life in the city, something kept taking her back to the comfort of her local library.

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