I Want To Go Back to Liberia!

We did so much during the workshop hours, and yet there’s so much more that we didn’t do. I read a few responses to writing exercises while there, and more on the plane coming home – “neighbourhood” and “personal hero” pieces, and moving accounts of experiences participants had when they were five, ten, and fifteen years old – but their writing raises many questions and I want to be able sit down with each person I met with last week and find out more – about each of them individually, about their country, about all they have been through, and all they hope for now.

Writing Workshop in Liberia

Having heard what a few of them came up with in a one-minute quick write on “Everything is different now”, I want to give them longer and to hear more of those stories.

And we didn’t have a chance to take up the assignment on picture books structured around a pattern with variations, and I’m curious about where that led them (the one or two I did have the chance to read are quite funny!) And I’d like to see how they would respond to each other’s work now, after discussions we had last week about picture books and the workshop process – what kind observations they would make about each story’s strengths and weaknesses.

If this all sounds remarkably similar to workshops I’ve run in Canada, it is. And yet my experience in Liberia was so very, very different. While there are similarities between Canadian and Liberian writers – all are avid readers, all feel squeezed for time in their days to write, and most long to see their work in print. But I have yet to meet a writer in Canada who has had every manuscript ever written destroyed when rebel armies rampaged through their communities. Last week I met three, who have picked up the pieces of their lives and are now determinedly writing new stories, with hope – thanks to Reading Liberia, conceived of by a remarkable Liberian couple, Mike and Yvonne Weah – that some of those stories will be published, and read the children in their country.

“Not only the children of Liberia,” said James Roberts (Minister of Education), “but by all Liberians. We need to make our country a reading country.”

I also have to go back because one of the workshop participants, Gus Voahn, wrote a poem called “Today” and read it to us on our last, busy day together. And did I tell him how moved I was by it? I don’t think so. Did anyone else in the group? Or did we all just leave our silence to speak for what we were feeling?

I got an email today from Ingrid, Program Manager from CODE who is still in Liberia. She was taken to the University of Liberia campus yesterday, and then out of Monrovia yesterday to villages outside the city. And I want to see all that too. Yes, some day, I will have to go back.

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Kathy Stinson is the author of the classic Red Is Best and the award-winning The Man with the Violin. Her wide range of titles includes picture books, non-fiction, young adult fiction, historical fiction, horror, biography, series books, and short stories. She has met with her readers in every province and territory of Canada, in the United States, Britain, Liberia, and Korea. She lives in a small town in Ontario.

Kathy Stinson


  1. Richard Rudnicki on February 23, 2009 at 4:07 am

    Hi Kathy,

    What an amazing thing you have done — to reach out and touch the people of another county in such a personal and helpful way — to help creat a "reading country"! It sounds like the experience has touched you deeply too. Good for you…


  2. Kathy Stinson on February 23, 2009 at 6:00 am

    It was an amazing program to be part of. I was remembering this morning the effect of a book about refugees in Africa on a writer in the group, and his reaction when he found out that one of the other CODE team members had brought it to in the We-Care Library. To know that he would have the chance to actually finish reading the book after we CODE people had gone back to North America meant to him. We take the abundance of books around us so much for granted here in Canada. And yes, being in on the early stages of helping to establish a Liberian-based literature in that country has pretty much blown me away.

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