Campus’s Wheatley Hall Named after First Published African American Poet
A group of professors who make up the UMass Boston Public Humanities Collaborative will be leading a discussion Saturday at the Central Square Theater on Wheatley Hall namesake Phillis Wheatley.
Barbara Lewis, director of the William Monroe Trotter Institute for the Study of Black Culture will be joined by Chair and Professor of English Cheryl Nixon, Assistant Professor of History Monica Pelayo, and Professor of History Roberta Wollons for the Pre-Show Saturday Symposium for Danai Gurira’s play, The Convert. The symposium starts at 6:30 p.m., followed by the 7:30 performance.
The Convert tells the story of Jekesai, a girl in colonial Zimbabwe at the end of the 19th century who escapes an arranged marriage by converting to Christianity. In their discussion, Lewis, Nixon, Pelayo, and Wollons will talk about the parallels between this fictional character and Phillis Wheatley, the nation’s first published African American poet.
“The connective link between the two is that each masters the language of another culture, entering a new existence, but to what end,” Lewis said. “Yes, Wheatley is the pride of Boston and the world, but she paid a terrible price for that transformation; so does Jekesai, who is remade as Ester.”
UMass Boston has a special connection to Wheatley. The university dedicated its “College I” building as Wheatley Hall on February 1, 1985. The UMass Boston Public Humanities Collaborative is planning a Phyllis Wheatley Day for some time in April.
UMass Boston and nine other universities are part of the Northeastern Public Humanities Consortium. The UMass Boston Public Humanities Collaborative is an alliance between the English Department, History Department, and the William Monroe Trotter Institute for the Study of Black Culture.
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