Not with looks, but books
Patrice Juah’s always got something going. From the glam world of pageantry to fashion entrepreneurship, public speaking, branding and broader communications, the former Miss Liberia has had to reach deeper — sometimes to her nerdy side — to unearth some of the wonders she comes up with. Case in point, among other things, through her “Sexy Like A Book” Poetry Competition, Patrice is nurturing a young generation of talented female writers.
The competition, now in its second year, has helped shape the writing skills of two classes of young female writers below the age of 25 years who undergo intensive writer’s training.
Sexy Like A Book is an academic initiative designed to inspire young women and girls, to improve their perspective on reading, literacy, and education.
“Our goal is to inspire and equip them to know that you can be sexy through education,” Juah told the Daily Observer‘s LIB Life. With the competition, we’re trying to redefine what it means to be sexy; the kind of sexy that embodies brilliance and depth, and not the kind that puts everything on display.”
With this, Patrice seeks to build the capacity of aspiring female writers to contribute to the literary landscape, thereby breaking the barriers of not having enough female writers in the country.
For the past five decades, the literary scene has been dominated by males, with notably few female writers – a situation Patrice described as “disheartening”.
However, she believes that such a situation can now be avoided, through the competition which strives to ensure that every aspiring female writer is nurtured to become a better one.
The competition is a platform that provides girls between the ages of 12-21 the opportunity to write and tell their stories their way, while amplifying their voices as young upcoming writers. It also works to ignite a passion for reading and storytelling among young girls and women.
Patrice notes that as a writer, paving the way for the next generation of writers is paramount to preserving and rewriting the Liberian story.
“These young women are talented, but they need strong females to look up to and learn from, and that’s why I’ve stepped forward. Sexy Like A Book seeks to create spaces that engage and support girls along with their educational journey, something critically needed now more than ever.
Sexy Like A Book helps in combating the high rate of illiteracy in Liberia, by cultivating a culture of reading that transcends the classrooms, and motivates girls to be intelligent, poised, creative and assertive visionaries, who contribute to their communities and the world,” she added.
Lisa Harris and Diamond Tealee Brown, the past and current winners respectively of the Sexy Like A Book competition described Ms. Juah’s undertaking as a worthy one.
“Since childhood, I wanted to be a writer, but it was through the competition that I have been able to improve my writing skills greatly and build the self-confidence I need to become a writer,” Diamond, the 2018 winner said, adding, “Frankly speaking, it was Ms. Juah that brought out the almost forgotten talent in me.”
Lisa, the immediate past winner of the competition, added: “I’m glad that she is trying to uplift many of us and the experience so far has been great. Patrice is a mentor who helps to shape your career. Since meeting her, my confidence has increased and I’ve worked on my debut book, which will be out anytime soon.”
Launched in 2015, the “Sexy Like A Book” initiative is a program under the Martha Juah Educational Foundation, a non-governmental organization founded by Patrice in honor of her mother, a retired primary school teacher of 50 years. Beyond the poetry competition, the initiative engages in mentorship and training programs for girls.
At the end of every competition year, poems from the winners and finalists are published in an anthology, courtesy of Village Tales Publishing, a partner and sponsor of the initiative. The first book, Enchanting Voices explores stories of hope, dreams, courage, resilience, possibilities, family life, and a future waiting to bloom.
Enchanting Voices, since its release in July of last year, has received positive reviews and sold out at its launch in Monrovia. And that proceeds from the book go towards providing scholarships and educational resources to Liberian girls, particularly those in rural communities. One of the current beneficiaries is an Ebola orphan and survivor.
Patrice added: “The collection is a poetic celebration of youth, innocence, joy, and emergence from a place of despair to one of progress and fulfilled dreams.”
The foundation, which organizes the competition, is solely supported by Ms. Juah without any donor support. She says that her strength lies in her ability to take risks and stand up to challenges, no matter the magnitude.
“While it’s true that I need donor support, I cannot wait for it before taking action. I don’t regret spending personal funds to make this happen, because I support girls’ empowerment, and for that to be achieved, I have to take the lead.
“I see every challenge as an opportunity for innovative thinking and action. I never consider my location as a limitation and encourage the girls I work with to develop a similar mindset. I encourage them to always dream beyond limitations and work towards achieving the unimaginable,” she said.