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.
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.