WMU News

New book of award-winning poems released

April 21, 2003

KALAMAZOO -- Western Michigan University's Patricia Jabbeh Wesley doesn't have to watch television or pick up a newspaper to learn about war. That's because the Liberian-born poet and former refugee knows first-hand how affects families, how it destroys communities and how hard it is to achieve peace of mind, even after the fighting stops.

"Becoming Ebony," her latest book of poems, lends voice to Wesley's experiences as a child growing up in her beloved Monrovia, as a desperate refugee in one of the area's notorious torture camps, and as an emigrant wife and mother easing her family into life in America. Wesley is a WMU assistant professor of English.

The collection, published by Crab Orchard Review and Southern Illinois University Press, won second place in the 2002 Crab Orchard Award Series in poetry and was published this year as part of the award. The new volume of verse is Wesley's second published work. Her first book, "Before the Palm Could Bloom: Poems of Africa," in 1998. A third book of poems, "In the Ruined City," is being completed.

Critics have praised "Becoming Ebony" for presenting readers with the often brutal and tragic truth associated with life in a war-torn society, while offering powerful examples of beauty, strength and triumph in the face of death, heartache and despair.

"'Becoming Ebony' is in many respects a memoir of the life she lost when she was forced to flee Liberia because of the war," said Tim Seibles, a judge in the Crab Orchard Awards competition. "Naturally, a longing for family and the familiarity of home permeates this book. However, this is not simply a poetry of mourning or an excursion into some wistful fantasy of an African life. We are given a complex view of a society that was unmade by political convulsion and the resulting violence."

The author of hundreds of poems, Wesley earned her doctoral degree from WMU in 2002 and now teaches creative writing and African Literature. She is a member of the Liberian Studies Association, African Studies Association and African Literature Association, and has organized writing workshops and multicultural programs designed for children at the elementary level. She also has worked as a writing specialist and multicultural program director in many schools throughout West Michigan, and was a teacher and school principal in Liberia.

For more information about "Becoming Ebony," contact Jane Carlson of Southern Illinois University Press at (618) 453-6633 or <jcarlson@siu.edu>. Patricia Jabbeh Wesley can be reached at (269) 387-2629 or <pjabbeh@juno.com>.

Media contact: Gail Towns, 269 387-8400, gail.towns@wmich.edu

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