Wilton Sankawulo: Liberian Literary Warrior is Dead- Come, and Let Us Lay Out the Mourning Cloth! Come, the Warrior is No More- Bring Out the Town Crier- The Hero is No More


Wilton Gbakolo Sengbe Sankawulo, Liberian novelist, folklorist, Professor, and former Head of State of Liberia’s Interim government in the 1990s was born in Haindi, Bong County, Fuama Chiefdom, Liberia, in 1937, and died on February 21, 2009.


Wilton Gbakolo Sengbe Sankawulo, the author of “Why Nobody Knows When He Will Die and Other Liberian Tales from Liberia” is no more.

Professor Sankawulo, died around 1pm today, Saturday, February 21, 2009. Throughout his life, Wilton loved Liberia and Liberian literature. Many of us who attended the University of Libera were students of Professor Sankawulo. I knew Wilton first, when I was a student at the University between 1977-1980, and later in the 1980s as a colleague in the English Department at the University of Liberia. He was both a teacher, a father figure, a friend, a passionate writer, a politician, and a Liberian hero.


Sundown at Dawn: A Liberian Odyssey (Dusty Spark Pub)
by Wilton Sankawulo


By Wilton Sankawulo

  • Why Nobody Knows When He Will Die, and Other Tales from Liberia
  • by Wilton Sankawulo (   Macmillan)Edition    Hardcover
  • The Marriage of Wisdom, and Other Tales
    by Wilton Sankawulo
    Hardcover, Heinemann Educational,

Professor Sankawulo departed this world today, leaving many memories with so many of us. For those of us who love Literature, he left us several books to read and remember him. Some of us remember his huge frame, walking in the English Department of the University or we recall him signing his book even in Liberia those days. I recall many debates with him as a colleague,debates over what I thought Liberia literature was compared to what he thought.

Up until his departure from the United States a year ago, Professor Sankawulo never stopped calling me “Jebbeh, dragging my name the way the Vai people call the name, Jebbeh. He never took my corrections seriously from the days when I was his student in his Composition class at the University up to the days before he departed the US for Liberia. I would correct him that I was not “Jebbeh” the name for a Vai girl, but “Jabbeh,” the last name of my father’s family. He was a jovial, sometime serious politician. But whether he was a writer, a friend or a politician, Prof. Sankawulo loved his country and its people. He wanted to carve up all of the stories about Liberia that he could come up with. He wanted to live longer, to find time to finish that memoir of his civil war experiences.

What Dirge
By Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

So what shall I use to wipe my brow?
To bring back a life
snatched away in its prime?
What shall I say, and what shall I lay hands
so helpless upon to wipe the sorrow
from my brow?

What shall I wear to mourn a life
whose end has dealt us this blow?
Shall I wear black, so when our townswomen,
hearing the drums, come wailing, wailing,
they shall see the sorrow
of my heart on my dark lappa?

Shall I tie a string around my forehead?
Shall I lie prostrate on The Mat?
Shall I cry tears for those you’ve left us to feed
when we ourselves cannot feed ourselves
in a land where the hungry, forever hungry,
keep the faith?

What dirge shall I sing?
Shall I recount the battles fought at Nganlun?
Shall I sing of blood shed at the cracking of a gun
when I myself am so afraid of the gun?
What shall I say when the women,
hearing my song, come wailing
and knocking at my door?

(Copyright: Before the Palm Could Bloom:Poems of   Africa)

Photo and article, takenFROM THE LIBERIAN OBSERVER

Former Chairman of Liberia, Author, Literature Professor

Published:  21 February, 2009
Picture of Prof. Sankawulo on the back of Rain and the Night

Wilton Sankawulo, a renowned Liberian novelist and folktale writer, who served as Chairman of the Council of State of the Liberian National Transitional Government in 1995 during the civil war, died at the John F. Kennedy Medical Center on Saturday afternoon, February 21, 2009, following a protracted illness. He was 71.

His wife of nearly 45 years, Mrs. Amelia Yatta Sankawulo, was at his bedside when he received his eternal summons.

On the night before his death he was visited by Liberia’s Head of State, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Wilton Sankawulo started his literary career at Cuttington College and Divinity School (now Cuttington University) which he entered in February, 1960. His short stories were first published in the Cuttington Review, the college’s literary magazine, edited then by his classmate, Kenneth Y. Best. The faculty advisor on the Review was Mrs. Judy Gay, Cuttington’s lead English teacher during that period. Wilton frequently won the top prize for short story. Following his graduation in 1963, he was awarded a fellowship to study Sacred Theology at the Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, California, United States of America. There he took the Master’s degree in Divinity. He later participated in a writers’ workshop at the University of Iowa, which led him on to take a second Master’s, the MFA degree in English.

Returning home in the late 1960s, Wilton was employed at the Department of Information and Cultural Affairs (now Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism), where he served first in the Press Bureau and was later appointed Director of the Overseas Press Bureau, during the administration of E. Reginald Townsend and later G. Henry Andrews, the country’s first Minister of Information. In 1973 he was appointed Special Assistant to the new Minister, Dr. Edward B. Kesselly. But during this early period, Mr. Sankawulo always maintained a teaching position at the University of Liberia, rising to the post of Associate Professor (1985-1990). He resumed his teaching at UL last year, following his return from exile during the latter part of the Liberian civil war years. He also taught English and Literature at his alma mater, Cuttington.

Professor Sankawulo began earning his fame as a prolific Liberian writer already in the 1970s. In 1974 he published The Marriage of Wisdom, his first collection of Liberian tales. The book was published by Heinemann Educational Books and became, like many others, a standard literature text in Liberian schools. His second collection, Why Nobody Knows When He Will Die, was later published by Macmillan Education Ltd.

The Rain and the Night, a novel, appeared in 1979. Many of Sankawulo’s stories appeared in the Pan African Journal, Negro Digest, African Arts, World Encounter. Sankawulo also produced an anthology of African stories entitled More Modern African African Stories, published by Fontana Books.

On the accession of William R. Tolbert to the Liberian presidency, Sankawulo, while still in the employ of the Ministry of Information, wrote a biography of the new President entitled Tolbert of Liberia.

Sankawulo’s last position at Information was Research Specialist, following which he was transferred to the Executive Mansion, where he spent almost a year as Assistant Minister of State for Presidential Affairs. Between 1983-1985 he served as Director General of the Cabinet and later Special Assistant for Academic Affairs to President Samuel K. Doe. It was in this position, as Doe’s teacher, that Sankawulo helped the Liberian Head of State to complete his academic work, leading to his graduation from the University of Liberia in 1989.

Professor Sankawulo later served as a writer with the Educational Secretariat, Catholic Archdiocese of Monrovia.

In 1995 he was named Chairman of the Council of State of the Liberian National Transition Government, a position he held until July 1996.

At a certain point Professor Sankawulo gave up his career in government to devote his life to writing and research dealing with Liberia’s traditional culture. According to him, he made this sacrifice because he felt that very little attention had at that point been given to the preservation of his country’s traditional culture, which he feared “was speedily passing away.” In this vocation, he said he had been inspired by the works of Liberia’s foremost folklorists, Bai T. Moore and Dr. S. Jangaba Johnson.

Though a novelist and short story writer, Sankawulo is himself best known as a folklorist. He described Liberian life in its traditional setting and bore witness to the richness and greatness of the mind and thought of the African people.

Wilton Sengbe Sankawulo was born on July 26, 1937, in Haindii, Lower Bong County, a Kpelle town in the Fauma Chiefdom on the St. Paul River. His parents were Dougba and Nasuaa (pronounced nay-suah) Sankawulo.

Wilton began his education at the Kpolopele Lutheran Mission near Haindii, and continued in other Lutheran Mission schools, first in Sanoyea, where he met his lifelong classmate, Dr. Walter Gwenigale, Liberia’s current Minister of Health and Social Welfare. Wilton and Walter completed the fifth grade in Sanoyea, then in the Central Province (now in Bong County). These two promising Kpelle boys were then sent to Belefanai, also in Bong, for a semester. In 1953 they were transferred to Zorzor for the sixth and seventh grades. From Zorzor they were again transferred to the Lutheran Training Institute in Harrisburg, where they completed the eighth, ninth and tenth grades. In 1958 Wilton and Walter, along with other students became numbered among the first students to enter the Lutheran Training Institute (LTI), which was transferred from Harrisburg to Salayea in the Western Province (now Lofa County). There they completed their secondary education, graduating in 1959.

The following year these lifelong classmates entered Cuttington, parting only in their sophomore year, 1961, after Walter, a brilliant Science student, received a Lutheran fellowship to study Medicine in Puerto Rico.

He is survived by his widow, Mrs. Amelia Yatta Sankawulo; two sisters, Gbesse and Evelyn; two daughters, Mrs. Rose Cooper and Mrs. Minnie Ricks; two sons, Roland and Wilton, Jr. and a host of other relatives.

Funeral arrangements will be announced later.

This article was taken from the Liberian Observer (Published by a Mr. Kenneth Best, a good friend of mine and a Liberian veteran journalist in Monrovia, Liberia, Feb.21, 2009- the Observer link: http://www.liberianobserver.com/news/fullstory.php/aid/15399/WILTON_SANKAWULO_DIES.html)

As Liberians In the US Face Possible Deportation, their President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Apologizes for Helping to Start the Civil War that Drove them Into Exile: So What Does that Mean?


So what does this mean for Liberians abroad, for Liberians still languishing in Refugee camps, for Liberians who are afraid of the looming threat of deportation on March 30, 2009, when the current Temporary Protective Status (TPS) ends, and the US government refuses to let them remain here in this country? The President’s admission should not stop right here with her apology. Should Ellen lead Liberia into confiscating all the resources that Charles Taylor stole from our country during his bloody take over of our country, during the fourteen year carnage he waged? Those who are perpetrators should be brought to justice for sending so many to their graves and for sending hundreds of thousands into exile. She needs to join forces with thoes who are campaigning to grant  permanent resident status to each Liberian on TPS here in the US. I have had mixed emotions about the news not because I did not know all of this news before the TRC session with our President. I will wait to hear what my readers think, and what they hope we Liberians can achieve. I am sure others will politicize this to the limit, but this is a moment for everyone of us to reflect on. History is interesting when it unfolds before our eyes. To know that the war that many supported with their money continues to haunt us today is amazing. This is another moment for thinking Liberians to reflect on. Reflect with me, will you?

Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf said she had been fooled by Charles Taylor

Read the news article from the BBC below.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has apologised at a truth and reconciliation commission over her backing for ex-rebel Charles Taylor.

She said she had initially supported the rebel chief’s war effort and even raised funds for him, but denied ever having been a member of his group.

She said she had been fooled about the real intentions of Mr Taylor.

He led rebels who toppled President Samuel Doe in a 14-year civil war that left the West African nation shattered.

Mrs Johnson-Sirleaf was imprisoned in the 1980s for criticising the military regime of President Doe and then backed Charles Taylor’s rebellion before falling out with him and being charged with treason after he became president.


She took an oath on Thursday in the capital Monrovia from truth commission chairman Jerome Verdier and then sat before the flag of Liberia.

The 70-year-old Liberian leader faced the seven-member commission as she narrated her own involvement in the Liberian crisis that began on the eve of Christmas in 1989.

“If there is anything that I need to apologise for to this nation is to apologise for being fooled by Mr Taylor in giving any kind of support to him,” she said.

“I feel it in my conscience. I feel it every day,” she said, regretting her support to Mr Taylor.

Former Liberian President Charles Taylor (file image)

Charles Taylor now faces war crimes charges in The Hague

The Liberian leader said she had paid him a visit in May 1990 at his base in the north-eastern Liberian town of Gborplay, on the border with Ivory Coast.

“I will admit to you that I was one of those who did agree that the rebellion was necessary,” she told the commission. “But I was never a member of the NPFL (National Patriotic Front of Liberia).”

In a separate case, Mr Taylor became the first African ex-head of state to face an international war crimes court last year.

He is accused of responsibility for the actions of Revolutionary United Front rebels during the 1991-2001 civil war in Sierra Leone, which included unlawful killings, sexual slavery, use of child soldiers and looting.

Read two of my poems written during the Liberian Civil War.

Monrovia, Revisited (copyright-Taken from  The River is Rising, Autumn House Press, 2007)

——Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

This is the city that killed my mother;
its crooked legs bent
from standing too long,
waiting so angry people can kill
themselves too.

No grass along street corners—
so many potholes from years of war.
Immigrants from all
over the globe used to come here
on tender feet,

in search of themselves.
Abandoned city—
a place that learned
how to cry out loud even though
nobody heard.

This is the city where I first learned
how to lose myself.
Windy city, blue ocean city.
They say a city on the hill
cannot be hid.

The city of salty winds, salty tears,
where stubborn people still hold
us hostage after Charles Taylor.
You should come here if you want
to know how sacred
pain can be.

All Dirges Have Ceased (Copyright: Taken from  The River is Rising, Autumn House Press, 2007)

—- Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

All dirges shall cease at the striking of the clock,
at seven, when dusk comes creeping with death.
No more dirges will be sung for those taken away
or slaughtered or cramped together in camps
around the world—this our war.
Until we all wither like charred remains
of brush after the wildfire burns itself out.
And all the living creatures that once owned
the forest lie about in dry ash.

A snail shell, half burnt, a rattlesnake, coiled,
after the fire has eaten away its flesh.
A scorpion and her entire family, as if smoked
or parched hard for the ground.
And animals that used to run wild
in the jungles are all dead. But who will dare
mourn the passing of mere animals when
humans are still perishing and being smoked
and buried alive and put on the line

for the executioner, who is our warlord?
Where is everyone as kwashiorkor saps away
our war children one by one?
Our warlord tells us we cannot wail or mourn
or sing a dirge and wear black lappas or bury
the dead or send a letter abroad to tell those
who do not know about our dead.

Today when the sun comes into the kitchen
through the kitchen door or window, let us
catch its shadow, its rays; let us lock up the sun
in a box, in a steel box, and put a padlock
on the box. So tomorrow, there will be no sunlight
for the whole world. Tomorrow.
So there will be no more sunlight tomorrow.

Read the rest of this entry »

AWP Conference 2009 In Chicago, Illinois, and I Am Thinking In Poetry: Read A Few Poems from Some of My Favorite Poets


The Associated Writing Program Conference in Chicago will bring writers from mostly the US and a few from outside the US together. Last year, thousands gathered in New York City to read, sign books, present papers about writing and network for new publishers and agents. Last year, I did book signing and read my poetry with three other writers, Pulitzer Prize winning poet,  Yusef Komunyakaa, the acclaimed, award-winning, poet, Quincy Troupe, and the internationally acclaimed young African novelist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Quincy Troupe, one of my favorite poets and his wife Margaret became my good friends then. They are two of the most fun people I’ve met. This blog will pay tribute to some of my favorite writing friends or influnces. Enjoy.



dscn0705I took this photo during my visit to New York University where I was invited to read my poetry with two other writers on October 24, 2008. Here, Quincy was introducing me. But here is a clearer photo of him.


Quincy Troupe is the author of numerous books, including many books of poetry, and has won many awards. Some of his books of poetry include:
Miles and Me (George Gund Foundation Book in African American Studies)  Quincy Troupe (Paperback – May 30, 2002) and The Architecture of Language (Paperback – Oct 1, 2006). Quincy is the editor of Black Renaissance Noire, a literary magazine published out of New York University, and teaches at New York University. He and his wife Margaret are two of the most fun people I know. Below is one of Quincy’s poems taken from the webstie of Poets.org.

For Duke Ellington

— By Quincy Troupe

that day began with a shower
of darkness, calling lightning rains
home to stone language
of thunderclaps, shattering, the high
blue, elegance, of space & time
where a broken-down, riderless, horse
with frayed wings
rode a sheer bone, sunbeam
road, down into the clouds

spoke wheels of lightning jagged
around the hours, & spun high up
above those clouds, duke wheeled
his chariot of piano keys
his spirit, now, levitated from flesh
& hovering over the music of most high
spoke to the silence
of a griot-shaman-man
who knew the wisdom of God

at high noon, the sun cracked
through the darkness, like a rifle shot
grew a beard of clouds on its livid, bald
face, hung down, noon, sky high
pivotal time of the flood-deep hours
as duke was pivotal, being a five in the nine
numbers of numerology
as his music was one of the crossroads
a cosmic mirror of rhythmic gri-gri

so get on up & fly away duke, bebop
slant & fade on in, strut, dance swing, riff
& float & stroke those tickling, gri-gri keys
those satin ladies taking the A train  up
to harlem, those gri-gri keys
of birmingham, breakdown
sophisticated ladies, mood indigo
get on up & strut across, gri-gri
raise on up, your band’s waiting

thunderclapping music, somersaulting
clouds, racing across the deep, blue wisdom
of God, listen, it is time for your intro, duke
into that other place, where the all-time great
band is waiting for your intro, duke
it is time for the Sacred Concert, duke
it is time to make the music of God, duke
we are listening for your intro, duke
so let the sacred music, begin

(taken from Poets.org.)




Marie Howe is one of my favorite poets, one who has influenced my own writing. I discovered her while I was in the Ph.D. Creative Writing Program at Western Michigan University. My professor then, Nancy Eimers, who herself is a great poet,  adopted Howe’s book, “What the Living Do,” and that semester changed a lot of style or my line structure. I love the book she is reading from on this photo. Her use of couplets introduced a new kind of couplets to me, couplets that were couplets even though the verse was as free as any contemporary poetry could be. My second is filled with couplets influenced by Marie’s style. One of my dreams is to meet her one day. I love not just her line structure, but her poetry, her intensity of feelings, her use of Christian images at times. Below is one of my favorite poems. Enjoy.

The Star Market

by Marie Howe January 14, 2008 (copyright: The New Yorker)

The people Jesus loved were shopping at the Star Market yesterday.
An old lead-colored man standing next to me at the checkout
breathed so heavily I had to step back a few steps.

Even after his bags were packed he still stood, breathing hard and
hawking into his hand. The feeble, the lame, I could hardly look at them:
shuffling through the aisles, they smelled of decay, as if the Star Market

had declared a day off for the able-bodied, and I had wandered in
with the rest of them—sour milk, bad meat—
looking for cereal and spring water.

Jesus must have been a saint, I said to myself, looking for my lost car
in the parking lot later, stumbling among the people who would have
been lowered into rooms by ropes, who would have crept

out of caves or crawled from the corners of public baths on their hands
and knees begging for mercy.

If I touch only the hem of his garment, one woman thought,
could I bear the look on his face when he wheels around?




Gabeba Baderoon (pronounced Habeba Baadaroon) is one of my favorite poets and friends. I discovered her or she discovered me more than two years ago when we both were attending MLA in Philadelphia. I had just arrived at the main conference hotel and was driving into the garage or being assisted by the valet. And since I was in a Penn State car, she, having just arrived herself with her husband, saw me and called me. At the moment, I did not know her, this my South African sister-poet-friend. From then on, she and I read together at University Park, where she teaches African literature. I invited her to my campus at Altoona, where she spoke to my students about South African Literature. She is the author of three books of poetry, including, “The Dream in the Next Body” and “A Hundred Silences.” She is an award winning poet from South Africa, a well traveled scholar and a dear sister. What I have learned as a poet also from Africa, from knowing Gabeba is how to know a hundred silences. She is one of those soft spoken people whose heart for the world is larger than anything you have ever seen. I have learned a lot from knowing Gabeba in a short time. My favorite memories of her to date is when she and I were at the African Literature Association conference, and I was complaining about my nasty hotel room, envying her in her beautiful hotel. She quickly offered me a place in her room, insisted that I moved in with her, and even though I did not take her up on her determined effort to be a true sister, I was quite moved by that. Of course, I stayed in my ugly hotel until I found a room in the better hotel two days later. Find Gabeba’s books and enjoy reading them. Enjoy the poem below.

I Cannot Myself

______by Gabeba Baderoon

To come to this country,
my body must assemble itself

into photographs and signatures.
Among them they will search for me.

I must leave behind all uncertainties.
I cannot myself be a question.




I discovered Cynthia Hogue’s poetry naturally because she and I were published by the same press. New Issues had just published her book, “Flux” came out in 2002, so she was obviously signing books at New Issue Press book table, and the late Herb Scott, who was at the time my mentor, introduced me to Cynthia. I had read the entire book, so imagine how happy I was to meet the poet herself. From then on, Cynthia has always been one of my biggest supporters in the world of poetry. Over the years, I have turned to her for that sister-poet relationship every poet needs. She is the author of five or more books of poetry. Her book, “The Incognito Body” is one of my favorites. I am looking forward to seeing her this year at AWP. Last year, we played the “someone is looking for you” game at AWP New York. I would go to a table, and someone would say, Cynthia is looking for you, and she would get the same world, and not for the thousands of others looking for one another, we may have found each other at that over-flowing New York City AWP. Enjoy the poem below. This is Cynthia for you with her sly power over words.

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Tree

by Cynthia Hogue

It’s just like her to cry,
Oh, stop living in your head ,
Billy! It makes more sense

where the sun always shines
on dreams programmed for optimism.
Often the man wakes up laughing.

He’s lost his wife and calls
himself divorced, but each night
she says, Good night, my dear,

as if she still lived in the house
he bought for her. He hears her
in the live-oak through the open window,

telling him what to do. Everyone tells him
he’s better off. He thinks,
I’ve wasted my life! The man wishes

his wife would come back because
his beard has grown like Spanish moss.
Letters in his book swim through the room

like zebra fish. The salamander-
colored dog noses the screendoor.
The man knows somewhere there’s a reason

to go on. He wrote last week that he hoped
“to build a new life.” He sent the letter,
with his baby picture, to the Times-Picayune,

which put it in the personals. Someone
called to him from the magnolia tree,
which has bloomed into huge, disk-like flowers,

so many satellites waiting for signals.
Goldfinches flit at the tree’s foot.
He loses himself in the perfumed air.

His wife loved hummingbirds,
though the feeder has hardened
with old sugar.




Pittsburgh Steelers & Football Country: Whether You Love & Understand the Game or Not, Living in Pennsylvania Will Make You Love American Football


Update: Pittsburgh Steelers is leading halftime play: 16-7 against the Cardinals. We are having a great time out here.

Where I live, football is a religion.


Here is Polamalu running. My favorites are Polamalu, Hines, and the coach, Tomlin.

Is My Team Ploughing by A. E. Housman

by A. E. Housman (1859-1936)

‘Is my team ploughing,
That I was used to drive
And hear the harness jingle
When I was man alive?’

Ay, the horses trample,
The harness jingles now;
No change though you lie under
The land you used to plough.

‘Is football playing
Along the river shore,
With lads to chase the leather,
Now I stand up no more?’

Ay, the ball is flying,
The lads play heart and soul;
The goal stands up, the keeper
Stands up to keep the goal.

‘Is my girl happy,
That I thought hard to leave,
And has she tired of weeping
As she lies down at eve?’

Ay, she lies down lightly,
She lies not down to weep:
Your girl is well contented.
Be still, my lad, and sleep.

‘Is my friend hearty,
Now I am thin and pine,
And has he found to sleep in
A better bed than mine?’

Yes, lad, I lie easy,
I lie as lads would choose;
I cheer a dead man’s sweetheart,
Never ask me whose.

Everyone in Pennsylvania is gearing up for the Super Bowl. Everyone in America is going crazy about the once a year Super Bowl.

Even I, who up until today have never got my head to understand what the game really is, how it is played for the winner to win and what the rules are have become one of the biggest fans of Pittsburgh Steelers. It took me ten years to get to understand what First Down means, and now that I know it, and know when there’s a touch down, the Pittsburgh Steelers is going to the Super Bowl game for the second time in less than three years.

I found many poems celebrating the Steelers at this site, which you might visit. The poems cannot be republished here, so you may visit and read:




Below is the team that the Steelers will be beating up tomorrow. The Cardinals are going to return to Arizona with bruises and no trophy. Sorry, Cardinals.