Jackson State University’s Margaret Walker Center is celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Phillis Wheatley Poetry Festival (PWPF) with some of the nation’s top literary change agents. The sold out event is scheduled Nov. 1-4, 2023.
Fifty years ago, educator and novelist Margaret Walker had the keen foresight to organize a seminal conference at Jackson State College centered on innovative Black women writers, marking the bicentennial of pioneering poet Phillis Wheatley’s work “Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral.”
The reconvening of the Phillis Wheatley Poetry Festival welcomes back several of the original festival attendees, including Sonia Sanchez and Charlayne Hunter-Gault, serving as honorary co-chairs, who will also participate in keynote sessions. They will join intergenerational conversations with award-winning authors like Angie Thomas, Jesmyn Ward, Nikole Hannah-Jones, and Imani Perry, merging past and present.
“It’s an honor to celebrate the legacy of Phillis Wheatley—and to be a part of such an incomparable gathering of the country’s finest writers. I’m really looking forward to it,” said Ward, whose latest work, “Let Us Descend,” was recently announced as Oprah’s 103rd Book Club Pick.
A native of DeLisle, Mississippi, Ward is a two-time winner of the National Book Award and a 2017 MacArthur “genius grant” fellow. She will join Hunter-Gault and Danielle Littlefield, published writer and assistant professor at JSU, in a plenary reading and conversation titled “Our People” on Friday, Nov. 3, at 10 a.m. at the Jackson Convention Complex.
Chair of the festival planning committee Ebony Lumumba, Ph.D., describes the anniversary celebration as an effort to pay homage to the Black women who have laid meaningful foundations through art, work, and their lives.
“We are honoring Phillis Wheatley for what she shared with the world 250 years ago, lauding Margaret Walker for how she endeavored to preserve the legacy of Wheatley while crafting her own and celebrating the scores of Black women writers who have gracefully carried the mantle of literary justice and genius,” said Lumumba, associate professor and chair of the Department of English at JSU, in a previous release.
Phillis Wheatley Poetry Festival celebrates Black Women Writers
The four-day event is an opportunity to celebrate the legacy of Black women writers and inspire rising generations to explore their creative genius through the opening reception, luncheons, plenary sessions with guest writers, and keynote conversation.
Thomas’s 2017 book, “The Hate You Give,” received national acclaim and even birthed a movie before securing eighth place on the American Library Association’s top ten challenged and banned books list. Critics condemned its use of profanity and the depiction of drug use. Supporters champion the book’s depiction of the lived experiences of Black youth in America.
On Thursday, Nov. 2, Thomas will participate in the festival’s Banned Books luncheon and conversation with author and Professor Emeritus of African Studies at Smith College Paula Giddings and New York Times Best Selling Author Nic Stone.
“We imagine this festival as a true Sankofa moment that will reach back to move us forward. The impact of these artists is undeniable, and we are humbled to highlight them in this hallmark year. We hope folks will come to Jackson State, bask in their brilliance, and become inspired,” Lumumba says.
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