Phillis Wheatley was an enslaved African woman who, as a teenager, became the first published African author of a book of poetry written in English.
Ade Solanke, an award-winning playwright and screenwriter, has written two plays about Phillis Wheatley’s life to commemorate the semiquincentennial of Wheatley’s literary accomplishments. She joins us to not only explore the life of Phillis Wheatley, but also how playwrights use and research history to help them create dramatic works of art. Works of art that can help us forge an emotional connection with the past.
About the Show
Ben Franklin’s World is a podcast about early American history.
It is a show for people who love history and for those who want to know more about the historical people and events that have impacted and shaped our present-day world.
Ben Franklin’s World is a production of Colonial Williamsburg Innovation Studios.
Ade Solanke is an award-winning playwright, screenwriter, and university lecturer. She’s the founder and director of Spora Stories, a company that tells dynamic stories about the African Diaspora. She is the author of two plays about Phillis Wheatley, Phillis in London and Phillis in Boston, which tell the story of Phillis Wheatley’s experiences as an African woman poet abroad in Georgian London and at home in Revolutionary Boston.
During our exploration of Wheatley’s life, Ade reveals information about Phillis Wheatley’s early life and the cultural origins she came from in the Senegambia region of Africa; How Wheatley was able to write poetry as enslaved teenager; And, how playwrights like Ade use the work of history and historians to create dramatic works of art that can help us view and understand the past in new ways.
What You’ll Discover
- Phillis Wheatley’s background
- How Phillis Wheatley became a poet
- Literacy in the Senegambia region of Africa
- Why Ade Solanke wrote plays about Phillis Wheatley
- The work of playwrights and how they research the past for their artistic work
- How the purpose of a history-based play is different from the purpose of history book
- Phillis Wheatley’s experiences in London in 1773
- Phillis Wheatley’s decision to return to Boston in 1773
- Phillis Wheatley’s poetry
- How theater and playwrights can help people better understand historical people, places, and events
Links to People, Places, and Publications
- Ade Solanke
- Spora Stories
- Glenda Gerzina, Black London: Life Before Emancipation
- Glenda Gerzina, Black England: A Forgotten Georgian History
- Ignatius Sancho
- Associates of the Boston Public Libray, “Faces of Phillis”
- Phillis Wheatley’s London Adventure
- Episode 008: Gregory E. O’Malley, Final Passages: The Intercolonial Slave Trade of British America, 1619-1807
- Episode 086: George Goodwin, Benjamin Franklin in London
- Episode 123: Revolutionary Allegiances
- Episode 132: Coll Thrush, Indigenous London: Native Travelers at the Heart of the Empire
- Episode 166: Freedom and the American Revolution
- Episode 170: Wendy Warren, New England Bound: Slavery in Early New England
In your opinion, what might have happened if Phillis Wheatley had decided not to return to Boston as a 19-year-old? How do you think the remaining years of her life would have been different if she had stayed in London?
Questions, Comments, Suggestions
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