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March 1, 2004

Liberian Poet

A Christian poet whose work is defined by her experiences during Liberia's six-year civil war will bring her keen observations, passion and humor to Calvin College during Women's History Month.

Patricia Jabbeh Wesley, a Liberian poet and professor of creative writing and English at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, will read her poetry and participate in literature classes on March 11 through a collaboration of Calvin's English, gender studies and multicultural affairs departments.

"She is a poet who draws on her experience from the Liberian Civil war and tries to face honestly the violence of that conflict, but then also discern some hopefulness," says Linda Naranjo-Huebl, a Calvin English professor and member of the committee that invited Wesley.

The poet will invite the Calvin community into her work in a number of ways. At 3:30 p.m. on March 11, in the Alumni Association Board Room, Wesley will discuss the experience of Africans who — like herself — have been exiled from their countries through war. This phenomenon, which she calls "Living in the Diaspora," is also the title of this informal conversation.

At 7 p.m. in the Calvin Theological Seminary auditorium, Wesley will read and expand upon her work, an event titled Becoming Ebony, after her latest book of poetry. The public is invited to attend both of these free events.

Born in southeastern Liberia and raised in Monrovia, Jabbeh-Wesley attended the University of Liberia in the late 1970s, a period of unrest. From 1983-1985, prior to the outbreak of civil war, Jabbeh-Wesley studied at the University of Indiana in Bloomington, Indiana, where she earned a master of science in English education degree. She returned to her homeland and taught at her alma mater, only to be trapped in the turmoil when rebels overran Monrovia. After enduring the horrors of civil war, including torture, Jabbeh-Wesley, her husband and three children immigrated to the United States, losing their possessions and family in the process. In 2002, after publishing her first book of poetry, she earned a Ph.D. in creative writing from Western Michigan University. She subsequently taught creative writing and African literature there.

Said one review of Wesley's work: "Her poems are scintillating and vivid, quickly sketched fables shaped by recollections of childhood playmates, moonlight and ocean surf, hibiscus hedges, and big pots of boiling soup. But these paeans to home blend with percussive visions of falling rockets and murdered children, shaped recollections of hunger and mourning, and a survivor’s careful gratitude in a land of cold winds and rationed sunlight, her carefully measured memories and cherished dreams of return."

Calvin professor of English Roy Anker heard Wesley speak at a Hope College event and was struck by her poetry.

"She's very lively, passionate, colorful," says Anker. "It's vivid conversational poetry."

Women's History Month, says those organizing Calvin's celebration of the month, seemed like a good time to welcome a woman who had lived through so much contemporary history.

"This looked like a great opportunity," says history and gender studies professor Peggy Bendroth. "It's someone who the English department is excited about, and we were happy to support it."

~written by media relations staff writer Myrna Anderson

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Contact Phil de Haan
616-526-6475 (v)
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