JSU Phillis Wheatley Festival to be one for the history books

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Tonea Stewart

Never has there been an author whose poetry rivals the work of Phillis Wheatley.  She is proclaimed and celebrated as the first African-American author to publish a book of poetry.

After she was transported by slave ship from West Africa to Boston, MA, she was sold into slavery and bought by the Wheatley family who discovered her talent and encouraged her to pursue it.

Dr. Robert Luckett, director of the Margaret Walker Center at Jackson State University, said, “I am truly excited that JSU has been given the opportunity to reprise the legacy and the reconvening of the Phillis Wheatley Conference that was held fifty years ago.  We are delighted to have seven of the ten original living participants to join us to keep the legacy alive and relevant.  

“To date we have over 720 registered attendees that will be coming to the Jackson Convention Complex because we did not have room on campus to accommodate everyone, which punctuates the worldwide importance of the reconvening of the festival and the uplifting of the legacy of Phillis Wheatley.”

Angie Thomas

The festival events will commence at 6:30 pm on Nov. 1, 2023, with a welcome reception at the Westin Hotel in downtown Jackson.  The reception will feature actress Tonea Stewart, a JSU alumnae; Vinie Burrows; and Carole Gregory. 

The 1973 Conference, hosted by Margaret Walker, was comprised of Black writers under the Black Studies Institute that had been founded by Walker five years prior at Jackson State. According to records, “Thirty leading women participated in a series of lectures, roundtable discussions, poetry readings and other events on campus.”

Now 50 years later, seven of the ten living original attendees from the 1973 Conference, including Alice Walker, Paula Giddings, Charlayne Hunter Gault, and Sonia Sanchez are slated to come back to where it all began.

On Thursday, Nov. 2, at the Jackson Convention Complex, another round of notable scholars including Nikole Hannah-Jones and Eve Ewing will present (From Africa to America) at 6:00 pm with moderator Dana Williams.

On Friday, Nov. 3, 2023, Jesmyn Ward and Charlayne Hunter-Gault will present (Our People) a Plenary Reading and Conversation at 10:00 am. Alice Walker and Ebony Lumumba will discuss Our Mother’s Garden: A Womanist Legacy at the Luncheon and Keynote Conversation. At 2:30 pm, Diane Williams will once again serve as moderator, this time for “The Afterlive(s) of Phillis Wheatley”.

Also, a Tribute to Margaret Walker with Maryemma Graham, Shelly Lowe, and Maria Rosario Jackson will be held that evening at the JSU Student Center Theatre at 6 pm.

The Closing Reception will be held at the JSU Student Center Ballroom on Saturday, Nov. 4, at 7:00 p.m.

The anchor sponsors for the reconvening of the Phillis Wheatley Poetry Festival are the Mellon Foundation and the Smithsonian Museum of African American Culture.

For more information, visit https://www.jsums.edu/philliswheatley.

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JSU Phillis Wheatley Festival to be one for the history books

By Jackson Advocate News Service
October 30, 2023