Gloria Ann Wesley is an award-winning writer and a retired teacher. She is the author of several books of poetry, children’s literature, and young adult fiction, including Chasing Freedom (Fernwood Publishing, 2011), which was listed as a Grade Nine and African Canadian Studies resource by the Nova Scotia Department of Education and was shortlisted for the Ann Connor Brimer Award for Young Adult Fiction in 2012 (Atlantic Book Awards), and If This Is Freedom (Fernwood Publishing, 2013), which was selected for One Book Nova Scotia in 2017. Her latest book, Righting Canada’s Wrongs: Africville, will be published by Lorimer this fall. Read on to learn more about Wesley’s writing, the inspiration behind her historical fiction, her guilty pleasures, and what she loves about life in Nova Scotia.
How long have you been writing? What drew you to writing in general, and poetry and fiction particular?
It seems I’ve been writing forever, but I started playing with words long before I committed them to paper in any type of format until I won a class writing competition about the local museum. My teachers’ praise and having it published in the local paper was a wonderful incentive.
I was drawn to poetry, at first, because I saw things so vividly and felt so passionate about the American Civil Rights Movement. Writing was the only avenue through which I could express all my opinions and get rid of pent-up frustrations about what was happening.
Fiction came much later when I realized one way to have Nova Scotian Black history appreciated was through novels. Since there weren’t any, I decided someone had to write them and why not me. Besides, I was so tired of the one Black book, Raisin in the Sun, as a teaching resource.
In addition to being a writer, you’re also an educator. Do you see a connection between these two practices? What similarities or differences do you note?
Being a writer and an educator is similar. In both, you have to be an entertainer and draw on others’ thoughts and imaginations as well as your own. Teaching opened my eyes to see how students varied in their relationship to reading and how hard it is to accommodate the many learning styles and genders in the classroom. Novels and short stories I discovered had the potential to cross over the divide and get all students engaged, talking and sometimes re-enacting or rewriting scenes. The difference is a writer has to do far more research and be far more engaged with the content than a teacher.
What do you love about living in Nova Scotia?
I love Nova Scotian water, air and seafood, all moist and permeated with salt. No matter where I go, I can’t wait to get back home to experience the constant changes in the topography and weather.
Your young adult novels, Chasing Freedom and If This Is Freedom, are works of historical fiction. What inspired you to write historical fiction? What was challenging about the process?
I began writing Black historical fiction, maybe unconscientiously at the time, and because of its omission in the Nova Scotian publishing arena. The process, though long and arduous, is not as difficult as the challenge to change mindsets as to the value of historical fiction and that of Black writers because by embracing diversity, things get a whole lot more interesting.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
My advice is that if you have a special interest or something you really want to say—write about it. Aspire to please yourself first and then others may follow.
What’s great about writing in your part of Nova Scotia?
In Nova Scotia, there are so many untold stories waiting to be discovered.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
My guilty pleasure is Lay’s plain potato chips with a Snickers bar and a Pepsi or peanut butter and strawberry jam on crackers.
What do you do when you have writer’s block?
When my brain freezes, I go to bed early, then wake up at one a.m. and write for an hour or two, then sleep in. It’s great to be retired.
What are you working on right now?
I’m in the final stage of Righting Canada’s Wrongs: Africville, due out in September. Also, editing a YA novel on the No. 2 Construction Battalion.
If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
If I wasn’t a writer, I’d like to be an Inspirational/Motivational Speaker or Lecturer.