Wheatley Festival/William Stafford Poetry Celebration – Poetry News Roundup December 20th

Today on My Poetic Side, we bring you articles about the Philis Wheatley Poetry Festival and the annual William Stafford Poetry celebration .

The Phillis Wheatley Poetry Festival

Not long ago, a collection of women writers met at Jackson State University for the 50th Anniversary of the Phillis Wheatley Poetry Festival. The festival is a four day long symposium with poetry readings, panels and a range of other events. Amongst those writers who attended were seven of the ten living writers who attended the first festival back in 1973. These attendees included Paula Giddings, Sonia Sanchez, Alice Walker and Charleyne Hunter-Gault. There were also a number of other newer writers.

One of the focuses of the festival was “The 1619 Festival”, which was made up of two poems, one of which is called “Proof”. This was inspired by the fact that Wheatley was buried in an unmarked grave. To this day, the whereabouts of her burial spot is unknown although historians have tried to pinpoint where it might be. The poem is set in an imagined world where the whereabouts of the grave is known.

Widely recognised as the first woman of African American descent, and the third woman to have published a poetry book, Wheatley’s importance to the world of poetry is significant. She was born in Gambia and brought to America as a young child. Her first name is that of the boat that she was brought to America on and her surname that of the Boston family she was sold to. The Wheatley family undertook to educated her to a high standard for the day with classics, literature and astronomy amongst the things that she learnt. Her first poetry book was written when  she was in her teens, however the poem that brought her the most acclaim was “An Elegiac Poem, on the Death of Celebrated Divine George Whitefield,” which was published in 1770.

Her first book was published thanks to financial support from an English Countess and the foreword was written by several Boston nobles. The book even included a portrait of Wheatley as proof that it was the work of a Black woman.

The influences in Wheatley’s life including the poets Thomas Gray and Alexander Pope and her poetry reflects this. She was also influenced by her African heritage and wrote a lot about religion.

She passed away when she was just 31.

Date Set for Annual William Stafford Poetry Celebration

The 29th annual William Stafford Poetry celebration is due to take place on 11th January 2024, the organisers have announced.

There will be a special guest poet and several poetry readings from other local poets. Those who are attending will also be offered the chance to read their favourite Stafford poem out loud.

William Stafford served as the poet laureate for Oregon from 1975 to 1990. He was a winner of the 1963 National Book Award in Poetry and was named as the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1970 (a position now referred to as that of US poet laureate).

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