Registration Open for 50th anniversary of Phillis Wheatley Poetry Festival at JSU

March 14, 2023

Wheatley Festival historic group 1
Fifty years ago, Margaret Walker, Mari Evans, Sonia Sanchez, June Jordan and other literary greats gathered for a seminal conference at Jackson State College centered on innovative Black women writers.
Credit: Roy Lewis

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.”

Fifty years later, Jackson State University’s Margaret Walker Center is hosting the reconvening of the Phillis Wheatley Poetry Festival on Nov. 1-4, 2023. Seven of the 10 original festival attendees, including Sonia Sanchez, Alice Walker and Charlayne Hunter-Gault, will return to serve as honorary co-chairs of this historic occasion and participate in keynote sessions.

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,” says Lumumba, associate professor and chair of the Department of English at JSU.

The visiting co-chairs will join intergenerational conversations with present-day award-winning literary change agents like Angie Thomas, Jesmyn Ward, Nikole Hannah-Jones and Imani Perry. The discussions stand to be a significant exploration of relevant themes and topics in a merging of past and present.

“The 50th-anniversary reconvening of the Phillis Wheatley Poetry Festival gives us a unique opportunity to celebrate the legacy of Black women writers through the lens of Margaret Walker and Phillis Wheatley. These keynote conversations, along with the scholarship and the artistic presentations, will undoubtedly inspire a new generation of creative genius,” shares Robert Luckett, Ph.D., director of the Margaret Walker Center.

There will be an upcoming call for proposals and panels for coinciding sessions highlighting original creative works and literary inquiry. The tentative schedule of events will feature an opening reception, luncheons, plenary sessions with guest writers, and a keynote conversation with Alice Walker.

“We imagine it 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.

Update: Registration is now closed.