Becoming Ebony Reviews

Becoming Ebony Reviews


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



We are given a complex view of a society that was unmade

by political convulsion and the resulting violence



Books by Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

Before the Palm Could Bloom  /  Becoming Ebony / The River Is Rising / Where the Road Turns

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Becoming Ebony

By Patricia Jabbeh Wesley


Recapturing the celebratory voice of Africa in poems that are both contemporary and traditional, Liberian-born Patricia Jabbeh Wesley weaves lyrical storytelling with oral history and images of Africa and America, revealing powerful insights about the relationship between strength and tragedy—and finding reason to celebrate even in the presence of war, difficulties, and death.

Rooted in myths that can be traced to the Grebo tradition, Becoming Ebony portrays Liberian-born Wesley’s experiences of village talk and civil war as well as her experiences of the pain of her mother’s death and the difficulties of rearing a family away from home in the United States, and explores the questions of living in the African Diaspora. Turning on the African proverb of “the wandering child” and the metaphor of the ebony tree—which is beautiful in life and death— these poems delve into issues of human suffering and survival, plainly and beautifully chronicling what happens “after the sap is gone.”


Wesley writes with clear-eyed lyricism about her ruthless and beleaguered homeland, and the bittersweet relief and loss of the diaspora. 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, sharp 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.

—Booklist (starred review), Spotlight on Black History


[T]he strength of this collection is that it does not allow itself to wallow in the bleakness of sentiment. . . . In almost every section of the book, the reader is faced both with the brutal realities of life in parts of the world, and the lyric’s possibilities for delineating a space that can act against them.

—Publishers Weekly


Patricia Jabbeh Wesley’s lush collection of poems Becoming Ebony is in many respects a memoir of the life she lost when she was forced to flee Liberia because of war. 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. Consequently, there is a meditative seriousness throughout. But these poems are shaped by combinations of humor, sharp sass, and anger and are conveyed with the kind of frankness and warmth that two friends share when they haven’t seen each other in years. Another feature of this collection is Wesley’s deft exploration of the quieter frictions between women and men, which clearly transcend national and cultural boundaries. I turn to poetry for the chance to see the difficult world rendered clearly and made bearable again. Becoming Ebony is a book that does this generously.

—Tim Seibles, author of Hammerlock and Hurdy-Gurdy

The poems of Patricia Jabbeh Wesley are fearless, eye-opening, breathtaking, and compassionate. She writes of a homeland devastated by war and violence, of a culture’s survival beneath the flames of that war, and of the everyday courage of people whose stories would be lost if not for these poems. Wesley writes of her Liberia with urgency and with artistry, in poems that remain in the mind and heart long after the reader has closed Becoming Ebony. These are political poems in the best sense of the word—wise, necessary, undeniable.

—Allison Joseph, author of Imitation of Life and In Every Seam

Source: Becoming Ebony by Patricia Jabbeh Wesley / Southern Illinois University Press

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Where the Road Turns

By   Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

In this her fourth volume, I witness Patricia Jabbeh Wesley courageously dipping her pen into her own wound and splashing vivid imagery upon the canvas of her own skin. That is an illusion, for that pen is really a scalpel cutting the gangrenous and the rotten out of her nation’s violated flesh. But that too is an illusion. That scalpel is a steel tongue in a powerful Grebo woman’s mouth weaving a fine gauze from dirges, love songs, praise songs, fragments of aphoristic wisdom, fables, new myths, narrative and lyrical dialogues in order to bind our own wounded psyches.

Proud Grebo women’s voices burst through her mouth to chastise depraved men who harvest babies to stoke diamond wars as they blaze through forests of dry human bones in their imported death chariots. Beyond celebrating these fiery taboo-breaking warrior women who are passionate about peace, justice, their right to forbidden fantasies, she also claims her place, though exiled, in the lineage. Condemned to bear upon her back her home, she is the strong earthen vessel that safeguards the essential spiritual Grebo values bequeathed to her by the village elders in a circle. Because moving is never a leaving, memories of home constantly surge through the poet’s wry humor and wit that serve as balm for the ever-nagging pain.

To honor her ancestors’ memories Wesley has planted these enduring trees whose fruits must nourish us all if we are willing to avail ourselves of her poetic gifts. These are brave and fearless poems in a harsh dark season, yet necessary for the witness they bear to human folly while insisting on our capacity to love. With each new volume, her voice grows stronger as it blends with those of Ama Ata Aidoo, Alda do Espirito Santo, and Jeni Couzyn. She is without doubt among the most powerful of the younger generation of African poets.—Frank M. Chipasula, editor, Bending the Bow: An Anthology of African Poetry/ co-editor of The Heinemann Book of African Women’s Poetry

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Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf (video)

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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update 4 October 2008



Home Patricia Jabbeh Wesley Table    Transitional Writings on Africa   The African World 

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