There is a popular belief that Liberians are lazy writers and readers. Thus, if one hides something from a Liberian in a book, he or she is expected not to find it.
But a recent ten-day literary festival held last month (July 20-30) under the theme: “Liberia Rising,” showed the misconception of such belief. Since its completion, it is helping to change the narrative.
If one can recall, last year in July, Monrovia READS hosted two Ghanaian writers and three Liberian writers in a Minifest. Over the past year, a monthly reading event has been organized by Monrovia READS which features exclusively Liberian writers reading from their original works.
The festival, according to the organizers, was focused on the arts – music, literature, painting, acting, carving, and other creative professions. Speaking to Dr. Patrick Burrowes, co-founder of the festival and author of the book, Between the Kola Forest and the Salty Sea-Liberia Before 1800, he said, “We are holding ourselves back by not appreciating the arts. Creative people are the ones who give a society its vision. Without vision, people perish. Without the arts, we cannot be fully human.”
When asked about the reason behind the festival, D. Othniel Forte, publisher and author (Liberian Administrative System: The Legislature) said, “Seeing how Liberians tend to look down on or disregard the arts, we felt it necessary to highlight the necessity of the arts in any society. The situation has been so bad that some parents often discourage their children from going into the literary field. We can’t allow this misconception to continue.”
He further noted that “Since the end of the festival, we are beginning to feel its impact on society, as people demand more of such events and small-scale literary activities. They are now more interested in books by Liberian writers. The whole belief that Liberians cannot read and write is slowly being reexamined. The problem is partly that Liberians at home have not been exposed to or do not easily have access to Liberian literature. We now have the chance to rewrite this story.”
The festival opened with a stage play, “Citizen Teage”, written and produced by Dr. Burrowes. It starred Liberian actor, Major Owusu Danhsaw as the late Hilary Teage, a founding father of Liberia (speaking from his grave). Several literary conversations, debates, and panel discussions focusing on the play and a biography of Mr. Teage have sprung up. It has also ignited discussions on books published by Liberians authors and others of current literature on social, and political issues.
Liberia Rising festival, the first of its kind in post-war Liberia, attracted roughly 300 participating including the Vice President of Liberia, Jewel Howard-Taylor. It is getting favorable reviews and many are demanding the play be taught in schools across the country.
Constance Teage, a descendant of the late Hilary and one of the many participants at the festival, described it has one of the biggest things to have ever happened in Liberia literary landscape.
“The play brought to life too many things that were off limits, like the story of Hilary Teage. This was a brilliant idea. It is a move that will change the negative stereotype that Liberians are not passionate about their own arts and culture,” she said.
The Literary festival, according to several Liberian writers comes with a lot of positive influence because it makes people culturally active and socially involved and help people overcome illiteracy and ignorance.
And also create space where people come together to celebrate their cultural heritage and to be proud of it.
Another major voice in this regard was that of the Vice President, who noted that the play, “highlights literary stories to help shape identity [which] is more important than ever.
Vice President Howard-Taylor added, “This is another milestone in the new Liberia we all envision. It is a festival that we will support for it to continue. I’m so surprised to see lots of Liberian writings. That is great and the beginning of good things to come.”
“Other countries that went through a war, but they are moving ahead. This is because they are united and have self-confidence. Their recovery was not just about building luxury hotels and importing shiny things. Their recovery focused first on lifting the spirit of the people. The arts and knowledge of your own history play key roles in that process. Knowing who you are as a people and the accomplishments of your ancestors give self-confidence,” Dr. Burrowes said.
The festival showcased writers like renown Liberian poet, Dr. Patricia Jabbeh Wesley, Dr. Patrick Burrowes, D. Othniel Forte, Mae Azango, Saye Zonen, Nvasekie Konneh, James Dwalu, Kpana Gaygay, S. Kpangbayeaze Duworko and Samuel G. Dweh. It also featured several upcoming Liberian writers Janetta Konnah and Mohammed Sy among others.