Episode 377: Ade Solanke, Phillis Wheatley & the Playwright


Poster for Phillis in London, a play about Phillis Wheatley by Ade Solanke2023 marked the 250th anniversary of the arrival of Phillis Wheatley's published book of poetry in the British American colonies.

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.

Episode Summary

Headshot of Ade Solanke, playwright who wrote Phillis in London 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

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Time Warp PlainTime Warp Question

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?

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