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PSU-A professor praised for newest poetry collection

Patricia Jabbeh Wesley, a professor of English, African Literature and Creative Writing at Penn State Altoona, released her sixth collection of poetry, “Praise Song for My Children.”

Autumn House Press in Pittsburgh, the collection’s publisher, describes “Praise Song for My Children” as “deeply persona, drawing from her own life and surroundings to convey grief, the bleakness of war, humor, deep devotion and the hope of possibility.”

The collection features Wesley’s poetry published between 1998 and 2020. It explores various themes, including motherhood and all the roles it encompasses: parent, woman, wife, sister, friend. She said she wrote poems from the second book in the collection, the award-winning “Becoming Ebony,” around the time her own mother died.

“It’s about becoming stronger when we are forced to step into our mother’s place as a matriarch,” Wesley said.

Woven throughout the collection are experiences and perspectives from her native Liberia, which she left in 1991 to escape the long-standing civil war. She settled in the United States, originally in Michigan.

“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,” Autumn House Press said.

Wesley said she has evolved as a poet, with the ability to use both American and traditional African styles to convey different literary voices – becoming a “global poet,” as one of her students suggested. She says, however, many of the underlying themes and philosophies have remained the same.

“These books are not just about surviving, but learning from suffering and rising to become a more loving, hardworking person,” she said.

Wesley has received awards and grants, including a 2020 Humanities Institute Fellowship from Penn State University, a 2016 WISE Women Literary Arts Award from Wise Women of Blair County, Pennsylvania and a 2011 President Barack Obama Award from Blair County NAACP in Altoona, PA.

Wesley is the author of five collections of poetry, including, “When the Wanderers Come Home”, “Where the Road Turns” and “Becoming Ebony”. Her work has appeared in numerous magazines, including Harvard Review, Transition Magazine, Prairie Schooner, Crab Orchard Review, among others, and her work has been translated in Italian, Spanish, and Finnish. Praise Song for My Children: New and Selected Poems is now available.

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