Reading Liberia – June 2011
June 2011 presented me with the opportunity to work for a third time with Liberian writers through workshops and one-on-one meetings – thanks to CODE (Canada) and to We Care (Liberia).
The president of the country, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, expressed an interest in participating in the launch of the first Liberian-authored, Liberian-illustrated children’s books. She is a great believer in the education of Liberia’s children as key to citizens living together peaceably, and avoiding a repeat of the civil war chaos that ravaged the country for so many years. Sadly, for me – because the launch was scheduled during the week I would be in Monrovia – it had to be postponed because of a change in the president’s schedule.
But I did have the pleasure of witnessing the pride with which authors signed their books, and the articulate passion with which they responded to media interviewers’ questions. From left to right: James Dwalu, Brandy & Milly Wolova, Elfreda Johnson, Augustus Voahn, and Watchen Babalola. (Unfortunately Watchen was not in attendance the day the books were available for signing.)
I also had the privilege of working with talented writers whose books are slated for publication next year. Among them: Woryonwon Roberts, Mike Weah, and Gii-Hne Russell.
Yes, the majority of writers attending the workshops in Liberia are men, but efforts are being made to involve more women.
I first met Ade Wede Kekuleh (left) on my first visit to Liberia. She is a prolific writer currently revising a manuscript, in hopes of publication with Reading Liberia one day. It’s about two kids from different tribes struggling to convince their parents to set aside their hostilities. Harriet (right) attended the workshops for the first time this year. Having read an Orca Soundings book that she borrowed one night, she returned the next day inspired to write a story of her own.
I was especially heartened to see the youngest workshop participant (Cecilia) sharing her work with Momo, a member of LAW (the Liberian Association of Writers) who has been published often in the online journal, Sea Breeze.
It’s also heartening to know that Liberian writers will continue to support each other after I’ve returned to Canada, offering encouraging and challenging feedback on their writing – and even just providing an audience in a country where publishing opportunities are few. Pictured below are Gus and Mohammed (left) and Samuel (right).
And of course it was wonderful to see – in the playing field outside the school room where our workshops took place and on the streets between there and the We Care Library and the hotel where I was staying (not the one with the lovely balcony where I so enjoyed reading manuscripts and compiling comments on them on previous visits) – potential readers of the first round of books that have been published and those that writers are working on now.
Was anything different about this visit? Yes!
More streets have been paved. Signs are being erected in attempts to make some streets One Way. (They weren’t having much impact their first week up and the results at times were quite hilarious.) On some streets, streetlights have been installed.
And this time, unlike when I have visited during Canada’s winter, it was the rainy season.
I missed my family and my quiet green garden while I was in Liberia. Now I miss the wonderful faces and voices of all the people I had the pleasure of meeting there.
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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.