Valerie Wilson Wesley (1947–) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights
Born 1947; Education: Howard University, B.A., 1970; Bank Street College of Education, M.A.; Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia University, M.A.
Agent—Faith Childs Literary Agency, 915 Broadway, Ste. 1009, New York, NY 10010.
Scholastic News, associate editor, 1970–72; Essence, New York, NY, began as travel editor, 1988, became senior editor, 1990, executive editor, 1992–96, contributing editor, 1994–97; writer. Artist-in-residence, Columbia College, Chicago, IL, 2005. Member of board of directors, Newark Arts Council, Newark, NJ.
Griot Award, New York chapter of National Association of Black Journalists; Best Book for Reluctant Readers citation, American Library Association (ALA), c. 1993, for Where Do I Go from Here?; Shamus Award nomination, c. 1994, for When Death Comes Stealing; named author of the year, Go Go, Girls book club; Award for Excellence in Adult Fiction, ALA Black Caucus, 2000, for Ain't Nobody's Business If I Do; Amigirls Book Club Author of the Year award, 2004.
(With Wade Hudson) Afro-Bets Book of Black Heroes from A to Z: An Introduction to Important Black Achievers for Young Readers, Just Us Books (East Orange, NJ), 1988.
Where Do I Go from Here? (young-adult novel), Scholastic (New York, NY), 1993.
Freedom's Gifts: A Juneteenth Story (juvenile), illustrated by Sharon Wilson, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1997.
"WILLIMENA RULES" SERIES; FOR CHILDREN
Willimena and the Cookie Money, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2001.
Willimena and Mrs. Sweetly's Guinea Pig, Jump at the Sun (New York, NY), 2002.
How to Lose Your Class Pet, illustrated by Maryn Roos, Jump at the Sun (New York, NY), 2003.
Tales of Willimena, Hyperion Books for Children (New York, NY), 2003.
How to Lose Your Cookie Money, Jump at the Sun (New York, NY), 2004.
How to Fish for Trouble, illustrated by Maryn Roos, Jump at the Sun (New York, NY), 2004.
How to (Almost) Ruin Your School Play, illustrated by Maryn Roos, Jump at the Sun (New York, NY), 2005.
Twenty-three Ways to Mess up Valentine's Day, illustrated by Maryn Roos, Jump at the Sun (New York, NY), 2005.
Ain't Nobody's Business If I Do (novel), Avon (New York, NY), 1999.
Always True to You in My Fashion (novel), Morrow (New York, NY), 2002.
Playing My Mother's Blues (novel), Morrow (New York, NY), 2005.
Contributor of fiction to periodicals, including Essence, Ms., Family Circle, Creative Classroom, Weltwoche, and TV Guide.
"TAMARA HAYLE" MYSTERY NOVELS; FOR ADULTS
When Death Comes Stealing, Putnam (New York, NY), 1994.
Devil's Gonna Get Him, Putnam (New York, NY), 1995.
Where Evil Sleeps, Putnam (New York, NY), 1996.
No Hiding Place, Putnam (New York, NY), 1997.
Easier to Kill, Putnam (New York, NY), 1998.
The Devil Riding, Putnam (New York, NY), 2000.
Dying in the Dark, One World (New York, NY), 2005.
Wesley's books have been translated into French, German, and Polish.
Valerie Wilson Wesley writes for children and young adults, as well as penning novels and mysteries for adult audiences. Although her readership varies in age, they are united by their experiences, as Wesley addresses her writing to an African-American audience. A former magazine editor, she wrote her first book, Afro-Bets Book of Black Heroes from A to Z: An Introduction to Important Black Heroes, with author/publisher Wade Hudson. Wesley's second book, the young-adult novel Where Do I Go from Here?, introduces readers to Nia, a black teen who finds herself in the midst of problems after she accepts a scholarship to a prestigious white boarding school. When a racially based fight causes both Nia and a wealthy white fellow student to be suspended from the school, Nia is forced to rethink her priorities. According to Kim Carter in a review for Voice of Youth Advocates, Wesley's novel is successful in "portraying the human similarities that cross racial and economic distinctions."
Freedom's Gifts: A Juneteenth Story, illustrated by Sharon Wilson, introduces younger readers to both the fight to end slavery and the annual celebration that commemorates that fight. The story, set in 1943 Texas, refers to the celebration of "Juneteenth": June 19th, the anniversary of the actual date in 1865 that Texas slaves learned they were free. In Wesley's story, two children living in New York visit their great-great-aunt in Texas, and the elderly woman shares with them her tale of slavery and subsequent freedom. Segregation is still a reality in the 1943 setting, prompting the woman to remind her young relatives that more freedoms are still to be achieved. A Publishers Weekly critic called Freedom's Gifts "sophisticated and distinctive" and praised Wesley's treatment of a "sensitive and important subject."
Less serious in focus, Wesley's book series about a spunky young girl named Willimena has won the author many young fans. Willimena and the Cookie Money, the first book in the series—and Wesley's first book for children—begins with a dilemma: Seven-year-old Willimena Thomas has spent the money she collected selling Girl Scout cookies and the time has come to turn the funds over to the leader of her Brownie troop. Realizing that the money was for good causes, Willimena found a good cause right at her own school: two sisters whose impoverished aunt has not able to give them lunch money or any food to eat. With her sister's help, Willimena tries to replace the Brownie troop's cookie money in other ways, but ultimately has to take responsibility for her actions and trust the consequences. A Publishers Weekly reviewer praised Willimena and the Cookie Money for including "believable bickering" between sisters and deemed Wesley's work a "snappy novel … ideal for beginning and reluctant readers." In School Library Journal Barbara Auerbach also enjoyed the book, writing that the "entertaining" novel "features a strong African-American family."
Willimena returns in several more novels by Wesley, including How to Lose Your Class Pet and How to Fish for Trouble, both geared for younger readers. In How to Lose Your Class Pet the irrepressible Willimena is excited about moving up to third grade … until she finds out that her teacher is the mean Mrs. Sweetly. Determined to make the best of things, she tries to win the teacher over, but a plan to win points by babysitting the
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class guinea pig backfires, with humorous results. A family fishing trip in the setting for How to Fish for Trouble, and Willimena hatches a clever plan to upstage her visiting cousin Teddy. As noted by School Library Journal contributor Ajoke' T.I. Kokodoko, the plan generates "unexpected consequences" in Wesley's "winning" page-turner. Praising How to Lose Your Class Pet, Elaine Lesh Morgan wrote in the same periodical that Wesley treats readers to a "satisfying tale with an appealing personality."
Wesley's "Tamara Hayle" series has gained her a popular following among adult mystery fans. Tamara Hayle is a street-smart private detective living in Newark, New Jersey, who solves crimes in the seedier sections of that city and some of its neighboring towns. Throughout the series, Wesley places Hayle in life-threatening situations from which she must save herself by using her wits, strength, and courage. In When Death Comes Stealing Hayle investigates the murders of several sons of her ex-husband, fearing that her own son is next. A Publishers Weekly critic noted that book's main strength is "its portrayal of black family life in dangerous times," while a Kirkus Reviews critic commented that Hayle's "colorful personality and cultural insight spice up a serviceable plot."
Devil's Gonna Get Him finds Hayle hired to follow the boyfriend of the daughter of wealthy and powerful Newark resident Lincoln Storey. Hayle is reluctant to trail the boyfriend, who is also her former lover, and forgo good reason: through a number of events and twists she unearths Storey's dirty past and becomes a target of danger herself. Stuart Miller, in a review for Booklist, cited Wesley's "intriguing plot," while a Publishers Weekly contributor praised the "down-to earth observations of single-mother Tamara." In Kirkus Reviews a commentator also praised Wesley's characterization of Hayle, writing that the sleuth's "unapologetically plainspoken voice … makes this tale as memorable as her debut."
Where Evil Sleeps features Hayle solving mysteries and putting herself in dangerous situations in Jamaica. While on vacation in Kingston, Hayle is persuaded to accompany a friend and her husband to a seedy bar for drinks. While there, a power outage allows someone to steal Hayle's purse, then murder her friend's husband and another man. Though an old friend surfaces to remove Hayle from the events surrounding the crime, she eventually finds herself again embroiled in sleuthing.
Other novels in the series include No Hiding Place, Easier to Kill, The Devil's Riding, and Dying in the Dark. In No Hiding Place murder, suicide, old flames, and troubled teenagers figure in a story set against the rise of Newark's growing black, suburban, middle class and that group's relationship to the city's poorer inner city. Easier to Kill features successful radio broadcaster Mandy Magic. Victimized by tire slashings, graffiti, and anonymous notes, Mandy hires Hayle to track down her mysterious harasser. As Hayle investigates the string of seemingly small crimes, she realizes that Mandy's past holds damaging secrets, including time she spent working as a prostitute. The Devil Riding also explores the dangers of prostitution as Hayle searches for a runaway teen in Atlantic City. The determined sleuth plumbs the depths of that city's crime rings, only to discover ties between hardened criminals and the parents of the missing girl. Hayle's own past resurfaces in Dying in the Dark, as she investigates the seemingly unrelated murders of long-time friend Celia and Celia's teenaged son.
In Publishers Weekly a reviewer praised Hayle's "consistently sharp, honest voice" in No Hiding Place, noting that Wesley's novel explores "complex social issues." Booklist reviewer Stuart Miller wrote of the same book that "there is not a shred of sentimentality in this story's grim but ultimately satisfying resolution." A Publishers Weekly reviewer cited The Devil Riding for its "stellar cast of peripheral characters and a gripping plot," while Miller praised the "solid characterizations … well-realized setting, and authentic depiction of teenage runaways." In Booklist, Sue O'Brien wrote that in Dying in the Dark Wesley "makes good use of her Newark setting" and adds a compelling story thread: "the issues … [Hayle's teenaged son] faces as an African American male."
In addition to her "Tamara Hayle" mysteries, Wesley has written other novels for adults that explore evolving family dynamics in the lives of her fictional protagonists. Reviewing Wesley's Ain't Nobody's Business If I Do, about a forty-year-old woman whose life drastically changes after her marriage ends, Booklist contributor Lillian Lewis called the novel "a heartwarming tale" with "compelling turning points." Set in a New York City black artists' enclave, Always True to You in My Fashion details the romantic dalliances of art dealer Randall Hollis who juggles lovers because he cannot commit himself to a monogamous relationship. Black Issues Book Review contributor Lynda Jones found the work "a page-turning delight" in which Wesley "winningly details the stupid choices that smart women continually make when it comes to trifling men." Suitable for a teen audience, Playing My Mother's Blues centers on a mother-daughter relationship in which past choices that divided a family must be confronted after Mariah attempts to reconcile with the two daughters she effectively deserted when her adulterous affair ended in murder and her imprisonment. In School Library Journal Kim Dare praised the novel as "complex" as well as "rich and compelling," adding that Wesley presents a saga of women working "to define themselves, rather than letting their circumstances define them."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 18, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1998.
Heising, Willetta L., Detecting Women 2, Purple Moon Press (Dearborn, MI), 1996–97.
American Visions, April-May, 1997, pp. 18-21.
Armchair Detective, fall, 1994, p. 495; fall, 1995, p. 463; fall, 1996, p. 499.
Black Enterprise, August, 1982, pp. 39-44.
Black Issues Book Review, November-December, 2002, Lynda Jones, review of Always True to You in My Fashion and interview with Wesley, p. 26.
Booklist, December 15, 1993, p. 748; March 15, 1994, p. 1361; June 1, 1994, pp. 1775, 1787; July, 1995, pp. 1862-1863, 1869; May 1, 1997, p. 1468; August, 1997, p. 1884; August, 1999, Lillian Lewis, review of Ain't Nobody's Business If I Do, p. 2031; May 1, 2000, Stuart Miller, review of The Devil Riding, p. 1625; November 15, 2002, Lillian Lewis, review of Always True to You in My Fashion, p. 570; September 1, 2004, Sue O'Brien, review of Dying in the Dark, p. 70.
Book Report, January, 1994, p. 50.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, June, 1997, p. 378.
Children's Book Review Service, February, 1994, p. 121; spring, 1997, p. 145.
Emerge, June, 2000, Sheree R. Thomas, review of The Devil Riding, p. 70.
Essence, February, 1994, p. 121; October, 1999, Martha Southgate, "No Business like Wesley's Business," p. 76.
Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 1993, p. 1531; May 15, 1994, p. 670; June 1, 1995, p. 744; July 15, 1996, p. 1010; August 1, 1997, p. 1164.
Kliatt, May, 1995, p. 53; July, 1996, p. 16.
Library Journal, July, 1994, p. 132; November 1, 1999, Ann Burns and Emily J. Jones, review of Ain't Nobody's Business If I Do, p. 103.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, August 14, 1994, p. 7.
Ms., July, 1995, p. 75.
New York Times Book Review, June 22, 1997, pp. 102-103.
Publishers Weekly, November 8, 1993, p. 79; May 23, 1994, p. 80; May 22, 1995, p. 50; April 15, 1996, p. 63; July 15, 1996, p. 59; March 31, 1997, p. 75; July 7, 1997, p. 53; May 1, 2000, review of The Devil Riding, p. 53; June 18, 2001, review of Willimena and the Cookie Money, p. 81.
Rapport, June, 1996, p. 24.
School Library Journal, December, 1988, p. 117; November, 1993, pp. 126-127; June, 1997, pp. 102-103; August, 2001, Barbara Auerbach, review of Willimena and the Cookie Money, p. 166; January, 2004, Elaine Lesh Morgan, review of How to Lose Your Class Pet, p. 107; October, 2004, Ajoke' T.I. Kokodoko, review of How to Fish for Trouble, p. 135; July, 2005, Kim Dare, review of Playing My Mother's Blues, p. 132.
Voice of Youth Advocates, February, 1994, p. 375.
Washington Post Book World, August 21, 1994, p. 6; August 18, 1996, p. 8.
Valerie Wilson Wesley Home Page, http://www.TamaraHayle.com (November 24, 2002).
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