Guide to Phillis Wheatley Poetry Festival

In 1973, trailblazing poet and writer Margaret Walker invited 30 leading black female authors to Jackson State University for a pioneering conference and bicentennial celebration of Phillis Wheatley’s “Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral,” the first-ever published volume of poetry by an African American author.

Now, a half-century later, JSU is proud to host the 50th Anniversary of the Phillis Wheatley Poetry Festival on November 1 - 4, 2023.

Margaret Walker with Phillis Wheatley bust
Margaret Walker with a bust of Phillis Wheatley, created by Elizabeth Catlett
Credit: Roy Lewis/Jackson State University

Alongside ten original participants, a new generation of notable writers like Jesmyn Ward and Angie Thomas will guide intergenerational conversations, scholarly analysis, and creative writing seminars surrounding Black excellence. Read on to learn more about the event, as well as other important information to make the most of the festival.

Conference Chair & Keynote Speakers

At the helm of the festival is Dr. Ebony Lumumba, Conference Chair, whose background as a Jacksonian and dedication to literature and education sets the tone for the event’s intellectual and artistic discourse.

The festival’s keynote speakers are luminaries in the literary, theater, educational, and social justice worlds — Jesmyn Ward, Alice Walker, Angie Thomas, Sonia Sanchez, Nikole Hannah-Jones, Tonea Stewart, Eve Ewing, Charlayne Hunter-Gault, Imani Perry, Paula Giddings, Vinie Burrows, Maryemma Graham, Carole Gregory, Nic Stone, Joanne Gabbin, Shelly Lowe, and Maria Rosario Jackson.

Participant Bios

Schedule of Events

Readings, conversations, and exhibitions take place over four days between The Westin Jackson, Jackson State Convention Complex, and JSU & The Margaret Walker Center. The fourth day concludes with traveling tours and a special concert at Thalia Mara Hall featuring the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra – “Bravo 2: American Constellation” – where several of Margaret Walker’s poems will be read alongside American standards.

View the full schedule

Mari Evans speaks to Phillis Wheatley Poetry Festival attendees
Mari Evans speaks to Phillis Wheatley Poetry Festival attendees in 1973
Credit: Roy Lewis/Jackson State University

Shop, See, Dine & Drink

There’s no better way to immerse yourself in the rich culture and history of the Phillis Wheatley Festival than by exploring the city's vibrant black-owned businesses and history. Embrace civil rights stories and exhibits at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, Medgar & Myrlie Evers Home National Monument, and along the Mississippi Freedom Trail. In the historic Farish Street district, the Smith Robertson Museum and Cultural Center honors African American heritage, while the Big Apple Inn has been a generational and culinary hub for decades. For shopping downtown, stop by Offbeat, an alternative art, apparel, and record store owned by DJ Young Venom.

James Beard-nominated Sambou's African Kitchen serves Gambian food on the city's northside while James Beard-award-winning Bully’s Soul Food has classics like turkey necks and greens to fried green tomatoes in West Jackson. For a taste of the Caribbean, head to Godfrey’s in North Jackson, and at Sugar’s Place Downtown, fill up on classic meat-and-threes. For a late-night blues experience, head back to Farish Street for F. Jones Corner and Johnny T’s Bistro & Blues.

Accommodations & Parking

The recommended accommodations for the festival include Hampton Inn & Suites Jackson-Coliseum, Holiday Inn Express Jackson Downtown-Coliseum, and the Homewood Suites Jackson-Fondren. Rates may vary.

Shuttle service will be available for the Hampton Inn and Holiday Inn on Thursday, November 2. Due to the distance between the Homewood Suites location and the Jackson Convention Complex, shuttle service isn’t guaranteed.

For parking, please view the maps for the Jackson Convention Complex and JSU/Margaret Walker Center.

Anne Marie Hanna


Anne Marie Hanna

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