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The Year of Phillis Wheatley Comes to an End

By Barbara McCaskill

Dr. McCaskill
Dr. Barbara McCaskill, co-creator of "The Genius of Phillis Wheatley Petere: A Poet and Her Legacies."

This project began with a conversation between me and Dr. Sarah Ruffing Robbins, Lorraine Sherley Professor of American Literature at TCU.  2023 marks the 250th anniversary of the publication of Phillis Wheatley Peters’ Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (London, 1773), the first known book of poetry by a Black woman in what would become the US. After speaking to national colleagues about this sesquicentennial, we learned that most did not have programs planned. Our decision to organize just a few events between TCU and UGA morphed into the year-long, eighteen-event program, “The Genius of Phillis Wheatley Peters: A Poet and Her Legacies,” co-organized by Dr. Robbins and Dr. Mona Narain, both of TCU, and me. 

Spring and Fall 2023 events have been virtual, in-person, or hybrid. They have attracted national and international attendees and participants, and funding from Georgia Humanities, Humanities Texas, and the Willson Center.  One highlight was a panel discussion of materials in the American Antiquarian Society (AAS), the largest repository of pre-twentieth century American Literature, which included AAS archivists who described how the Humanities prepared them for their careers.  A program hit was Favored by the Muses, a 1934 pageant about Wheatley Peters by the Black educator and activist Mary Church Terrell, which Professor George Contini (Theatre and Film) adapted for the stage.  Performing during Spotlight on the Arts, a cast of student and community members and student musicians participated, guided also by Professor James Weidman (Jazz Studies Program/African American Studies) and Professor Jason Aryeh (Dance/African American Studies).      Flyer

So many English Department faculty gave generously of their time and expertise as panelists or event organizers: David Diamond, Aruni Kashyap, Susan Rosenbaum (Interdisciplinary Modernisms Workshop), Miriam Jacobson and Sujata Iyengar (Symposium on the Book).  Emerita professor Elizabeth Kraft generously funded Tina Borah’s work on social media, and the late John Lowe underwrote honoraria for a panel with biographer Vincent Carretta.  Our team is preparing an invited book proposal for an international university press.  We also have a program or two in the works for 2024.  Stay tuned!          

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