Patricia Jabbeh Wesley, Ph.D.

Patricia Jabbeh Wesley
Professor, English
Misciagna Family Center for Performing Arts, 125

Dr. Patricia Jabbeh Wesley immigrated to the United States with her family during the 14-year Liberian civil war, a war that has helped shape her writing as a Diaspora African woman writer in the United States. For more than two decades, Wesley’s poetry has given voice to the voiceless, the hundreds of thousands of Liberian war dead through its exploration of themes on the plight of the refugee of war, the new African Diaspora mother/wife, and African femininity, motherhood, home, displacement, and the survivor as witness. African scholar and literary critic, Chielozona Eze describes Wesley as “one of the most prolific African poets of the twenty-first century,” and Kwame Dawes, poet and founder of the African Poetry Book Series, describes her as “a poet at the height of her skills and at the height of her clarity about the world and what things must be spoken into it.” She is the author of six books of poetry: Praise Song for My Children: New and Selected Poems, When the Wanderers Come Home, Where the Road Turns, The River is Rising, Becoming Ebony, and Before the Palm Could Bloom: Poems of Africa. She is also the author of a children’s book, In Monrovia, the River Visits the Sea. Her newest publication, Breaking the Silence: Anthology of Liberian Poetry, the most comprehensive volume of Liberian literature of any genre, is forthcoming in March of 2023 from University of Nebraska Press. Her poem, “One Day: Love Song for Divorced Women” was selected by US Poet Laureate, Ted Kooser as an American Life in Poetry June 13, 2011, featured poem. Most recently, that same poem was selected by Naomi Shihab Nye as the New York Times Magazine featured poem on June 7, 2020.

Dr. Wesley has also had dozens of individual poems and memoir articles, and short stories anthologized and published in literary magazines, including Harvard Review, Transition, Crab Orchard Review, Harvard Divinity Review, Prairie Schooner, among others, and her work has been translated in Spanish, Italian, Finnish, and Hebrew. As a literary scholar and professor, Wesley has conducted research on Liberian women’s war stories, has served as an elected Executive Committee Member and Chair of the African Literature Division of the Modern Language Association (MLA 2003- 2008), and has presented numerous papers on her own poetics, African literature, African poetry, and poetry as a genre at several international conferences and literary festivals in the US and around the world. In 2008, she was commissioned by Advocates of Human Rights as an Expert Witness in the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Hearings in Minneapolis, MN, on the Liberian civil war, where she presented both her war time experiences as a witness/victim of the war alongside her research, documenting and recording Liberian women’s traumatic stories from the war.

Wesley’s sixth book of poems, Praise Song for My Children: New and Selected Poems, was selected by judges as the 2023 winner of the Theodore Roethke Memorial Poetry Award. Her second book, Becoming Ebony was the winner of the 2002 Crab Orchard Award and published by Southern Illinois University Press in 2003. She has received many other awards and grants, including a 2020 Humanities Institute (HI) Fellowship from Penn State University and a 2011 Institute of Arts (IAH) Fellowship from Penn State, a 2016 WISE Women Literary Arts Award from Wise Women of Blair County, Pennsylvania, a 2011 President Barack Obama Award from Blair County NAACP in Altoona, PA, the 2010 Liberian Award for her poetry and her mentorship of young Liberians in the Diaspora, a Penn State University AESEDA Collaborative Grant for her research on Liberian Women's Trauma stories from the Civil War, a World Bank Fellowship, among others. Her poems have been nominated four times for the Pushcart Awards, Best of the Net, among others. Dr. Wesley’s poetry has been extensively reviewed in magazines and has been the subject of book chapters by literary scholars and critics of literature, the subject of theses by graduate students across Africa and the world, including recent reviews in the UK, in the US, Scotland, and in Canada, and in Africa. Reviewers have explored her work’s contribution to gender issues, Africans in the Diaspora, exile, women in war, the Grebo tradition, and Liberia for more than two decades now.

  • Poetry Writing
  • Memoir and Creative Non-Fiction Writing
  • Poetry as a Genre
  • African and African Diaspora Literature
  • Postcolonial African Literature
  • World Poetry
  • African Studies