As more Liberians are trying to leave the country to seek greener pastures in the Diaspora, few like D. Forte Othniel are returning home to make a difference.
After decades living in the Diaspora, Othniel returned home to setup FORTE Publishing House to help potential Liberian writers to realize their dreams of becoming writers. This led him to resign from his well-paid job at the Kasetsart University, where he taught Creative Writing and English.
While a graduate student at the University of Philippines, Othniel noticed the lack of production of new literature out of Liberia. This instigated his desire to return home and change the overwhelming narrative that portrayed his country as one that does not love literature or reading. After much thought, he decided to contribute his quota towards the country’s literary development.
“When I look at Liberia, I see many talented and passionate writers that mostly need to horn their skills. There’s a high degree of creativity here but so little push. This is why we are trying to help them realize their dreams.
“Publishing for me is more than just business. It is a national duty. These stories, these books, are part of a drive to increase the local content of Liberian literature. Over a decade ago, we purposed to do something about the lack of new content produced by and for Liberians. Fortunately, today, FORTE publishing plays its little part,” Othniel said about his quest to open a publishing house in Liberia.
Since then, the publishing house has gone to publish over 20 books by Liberian writers, many of which were Amazon best sellers within three months of publication.
“But this was not that easy at first. Most manuscripts that we received had to be heavily edited before publishing on pro bono basis. In a country where not much emphasis is placed on reading and writing, this was a necessary sacrifice. This also means that generating profit from books published has not been an easy task.
“The opening of a publishing house came with the decision to improve local content. The journey has not been easy, but it has been worth it. At least, we are putting more Liberian works out there, which are doing well.
“Although the transition is not complete, but we can gladly say that we are operational and have enough capacity here to deal with the local contents and demand.
“We still face many other challenges though,” he said, “the biggest of which is not having a system to support an industry, and this is the killer. Publishing is just one aspect of the industry. The system surrounding it needs to be in place and functional for any growth to happen; however, we will not give up on our quest.”
True to this, FORTE Publishing has begun a reading literacy program styled Monrovia READS, which runs monthly on the last Friday. It encourages reading and inspires potential writers to pursue the profession.
Othniel added: “Liberia is a country that is rich in literature. It is about time we pursued this course to attract Liberians to their rich culture, which can be saved through literature.
“Monrovia READS brings Liberian writers directly in contact with their audiences. It is fun and it is free. We also read at orphanages, reading rooms and schools. Any institution that wishes us to read at their premise only has to make a request.
“We find a suitable date and that is it. This too is done mostly at zero charge. These are the kinds of programs that will encourage a reading and writing culture; not just having publishers, but having publishers that go beyond the regular jobs and partner with key players in the educational sector.”
Meanwhile, FORTE Publishing is near completion of a dedicated reader, written purposely by Liberian writers for Liberian children. The first batch of these children’s reader is expected to be released in December of this year. They’re also working on similar readers for junior and senior high school learners which are expected to be released early next year.