7pm, 20th September, 2023, London
The mother of African writing in English: Phillis Wheatley – Prodigy. Poet. Celebrity. Slave
September 2023 marks the 250th anniversary of the first book of poetry in English by an African!
Phillis Wheatley was born in Africa (most likely in Senegal) in 1753 or 1754. When she was about 7 years old, she was kidnapped and brought to Boston, USA. There, in 1761, John Wheatley enslaved her as a personal servant for his wife, Susanna. As was the custom of the time, she was given the Wheatley family’s surname.
Her circumstances allowed her time to learn and, as early as 1765, to write poetry. She came to London in the Summer of 1773 to publish her debut poetry collection. ‘Reflections of Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. The 19-year-old prodigy toured London in June and July, entering the vivid Georgian London world of Africans such as Ignatius Sancho, Ottobah Cuaguano, Dido Bele, Equiano Oluadah, and others. She became the toast of the town, feted by the political and cultural elite.
Phillis’ writings about politics and freedom from colonial oppression (coded arguments for liberation from slavery) made her the Poet Laureate of the American Revolution. Her erudition disproved racist notions about European intellect. After her life-changing London visit, Wheatley secured her freedom.
Join us to celebrate this tale of creativity and resistance with award-winning playwright, Ade Solanke, whose original new play, Phillis in London, dramatises and re-imagines Wheatley’s experience as an African Woman writer abroad in Georgian London, ‘celebrated’ by the elite of the capital of the British empire at the height of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. She’ll be joined by Diane Abbott MP to explore the landscape of African-Georgian London.