Wesley, Patricia Jabbeh
WESLEY, Patricia Jabbeh
PERSONAL: Born in Liberia; daughter of Moses Chee Jabbeh (a property supervisor) and Hneh Datedor (a nurse assistant; also known as Mary Hneh and Mary Williams); married Mlen-Too Wesley (a minister and business consultant), December 19, 1980; children: Besie-Nyesuah (daughter), Mlen-Too II (son), Gee (son), Ade-Juah (daughter). Education: University of Liberia, B.A. (cum laude), 1980; Indiana University—Bloomington, M.Sc., 1985; Western Michigan University, Ph.D., 2002. Religion: Christian.
CAREER: Writer. University of Liberia, Monrovia, instructor in English and writing, 1980–90; Grand Valley State University, Allendale, MI, instructor in writing, 1992–94; Aquinas College, Grand Rapids, MI, instructor in literature and writing, 1993–96; Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, assistant professor of English, 2002–03; Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Indiana, assistant professor of English, 2003–. Davenport College of Business, instructor, 1992–96; Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, storyteller and Africa outreach researcher, 1995–; Kalamazoo College, instructor at Lee Stryker Center, 1997–98; St. Bonaventure University, distinguished visiting scholar, 1999; seminar and conference participant; gives readings from her works; guest on media programs. Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo, past member.
MEMBER: Modern Language Association of America, American Association of University Professors, Liberian Studies Association, African Studies Association, Alpha Kappa Mu (Mu Omicron chapter).
AWARDS, HONORS: World Bank fellowship for the United States, 1983–85; Crystal Award for Achievement in the Arts, Victor E. Ward Foundation, 2001; grants from Michigan Council for the Arts, Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo, and Kalamazoo Foundation.
Before the Palm Could Bloom: Poems of Africa, Western Michigan University (Kalamazoo, MI), 1998.
Becoming Ebony: Poems, Crab Orchard Review, Southern Illinois University (Carbondale, IL), 2003.
Contributor to books, including New to North America, edited by Abby Bogomolny, Burning Bush Press (Jeffersonville, PA), 1997; Echoes across the Valley: Poets of Africa, East Africa Educational Publishers (Nairobi, Kenya), 2000; and New Sister Voices: Poetry by American Women of African Descent, Southern Illinois University Press (Carbondale, IL). Contributor of poetry to periodicals, including Crab Orchard Review, Cortland Review, Midday Moon, New Orleans Review, and Michigan College English Association Annual Journal.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Remnants: A Family's Story, a memoir of her family's experiences during the Liberian civil war; The A.B.C. of Children's African Name Book: Children Meeting Children; a third volume of poetry; research on African oral traditional influences on African-American poetry, with emphasis on the work of Lucille Clifton.
SIDELIGHTS: Patricia Jabbeh Wesley once told CA: "When I began writing during my elementary school days, I knew that this was something I enjoyed, something which no one could ever take away from me. It was my way of coming into myself—my little closet of protection from the confusing world of a stepchild who was too smart to be loved. I took every advantage of poetry since, and today, more than thirty years later, I have discovered that what I love to do can earn me a living.
"I am originally from Liberia, West Africa, a little country that has produced almost no significant writers, even though West Africa as a whole has such celebrated writers as Chinua Achebe and Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka. When I began to take writing seriously, this factor weighed heavily upon me. I would use my talent to usher my country into the world's literary scene—to enable African artists to see themselves as belonging to the community.
"The circumstances of my life in Africa and America have been my motivation. I see the world differently than an American who was brought up in this country. I see the tears, the pain, the suffering, and the injustice that plague the world family; however, I see the laughter in the tears, the peace that comes with poverty, the simplicity of the villager, the rural ruggedness of life and its immense beauty. I often take the two into question in my poetry or prose. I compare the beauty and peacefulness of the village where I spent part of my childhood to the city with its wars, disease, and uncaring, cold, and materialistic people. I often write about the beauty of waters—the Atlantic of my past, rough, troubled, yet beautiful.
"For me, literature can only be beautiful if the words it uses have feelings for where they exist. Therefore, many of my poems written in America speak of being an African in America, of losing home to my new home. I write about the loneliness of the aged, the fear of being consumed by the city, the loneliness of the crowd. My motivation comes from my surroundings. As a mother, I can look at my children and write a poem about the life I am giving them here and now.
"I dislike poetry or prose that is ordinary yet never writes about ordinary people. I believe that the literature of the ordinary is powerful because it has eyes for its surroundings. When nature appears in my poems, I make nature succumb to the people I write about. It is our nature; therefore, if the trees are green, they must be green for the people whose houses are knocked down when the tornado strikes.
"My first book of poems, Before the Palm Could Bloom: Poems of Africa, is a book that brings out all of these. The reader will see a cross-section of life in its reality: the village and its ruggedness as well as the city, the beauty as well as the ugliness of family, of tradition, of celebrations. I have poems that cry out against the pain caused by the Liberian civil war that destroyed so much and so many children. What I seek to do in my writing is to explore the beauty of everything around me, whether that beauty is in itself an ugliness or not. For me, whether literature writes about the ugliness of pain, of the nature of people, or about the beauty of all of these, literature will always be very beautiful if it uses language profoundly."