Wiley-Jones to Read Memoir at HPMEC

Thursday, April 10, 2014
Rhonda Wiley-Jones

Rhonda Wiley-Jones will be reading from her memoir, "At Home in the World: Travel Stories of Growing Up and Growing Away" on Thursday, May 15 at the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum and Educational Center. The Piggott native, and PHS graduate, completed and published the book last year which looks back on the experiences of a lifetime of travels.

Wiley-Jones, the daughter of longtime local residents Gaye Wiley and the late Junior Wiley dedicated the book to her mother. At the time of its publication she noted, it was her "experiences and influence which propelled her into the world and helped shape her growth as a person."

"The book portrays her life growing up in rural Northeast Arkansas, launched into the world by an empowering mother to journey as a tourist, missionary and independent young woman," noted museum director Adam Long in making the announcement.

In October, following the release of the novel, she spoke about the life which led to the story.

"I have been dabbling in writing for a number of years, and started this project about four years ago," noted Wiley-Jones, who majored in English at Ouachita Baptist University. "I felt like my travels were somewhat unique, and wanted to share those experiences."

The 1971 graduate of Piggott High School actually got her first taste of independence at an early age, traveling across the state of Arkansas by train when she was just 14. "Then, when I was 15 I had the opportunity to go to Europe and attend the Southern Baptist Youth World Conference in Switzerland," she added. "It's often thought that involvement in the church narrows a person's world," she noted. "But, for me the travels with the church really opened up my life."

Later she also took part in a summer mission trip to Hawaii, spending 10 weeks in the islands when she was 17. "Those weeks really opened my eyes about the way things were in other parts of the United States, and the world," she explained. "I was fascinated by the Eastern culture of not only the native Hawaiians, but also the influence of the Japanese and other nationalities--it was a cultural mix."

Wiley-Jones also points to a year-long mission trip to Salt Lake City, and a tour of the British Isles, as key moments in her path to self-discovery. But, she is quick to note the importance of the role her mother played in mapping the path.

"Mom had never been many places, or had much education, but she wanted me to have both," she explained. "She felt both would provide me a gateway to a happy life."

The author also credited the manner in which she, and her brothers, were reared for her success. "I had really good parents--they set limits, but also afforded us the chance to experience life and then take responsibility for our actions and live with the consequences," she added.

But, despite the fact life as a youth in Piggott helped shape her as a person, Wiley-Jones has spent all of her adult life living elsewhere. "I came back following my freshman year in college and worked as Youth Director at the First Baptist Church that summer," she noted. "But since then I haven't been back for more than a week at a time to visit."

A retired teacher, in addition to writing Wiley-Jones stays busy as a workshop facilitator providing staff development of other educators.

She is married to Lynn Jones, a native of Joplin, Mo., whom she met in grad school.

In addition to writing, Jones is also keeping busy during her retirement years helping others learn the trade. "I also do workshops for those interested in writing travel journals," she explained.

The reading by Wiley-Jones will be held from 3 to 4 p.m. on Thursday, May 15 at the local museum.

HPMEC is an Arkansas State University Heritage Site, located at 1021 West Cherry Street, Piggott, Ark. Tours are offered on the hour from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, and from 1 to 3 p.m. on Saturday.

Those wanting additional information on the appearance by Wiley-Jones, or the museum in general, may contact Long at 870 598-3487 or by email at adamlong@astate.edu

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