Performance, Podcast and Poetry
Phillis in London
An excerpt from an original new play, written and directed by Ade Solanke
Honest, simple, enthralling …absolutely brilliant ***** The Public Reviews, on Ade Solanke’s Pandora’s Box
From acclaimed playwright Ade Solanke comes a new play about an extraordinary writer – Phillis Wheatley, the first African-American to publish a book of poetry, and the second American woman to do so.
Her 1773 volume, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, published in London when she was still a teenager, marks a watershed moment in literary history and made her ‘the Oprah Winfrey of her day’, both in Europe and America. On her trip to London in 1773, she toured the city, visited Greenwich with its myriad connections to the Navy, the Slave Trade and British-African history, and mixed with the elite of London society.
But while she was being celebrated, she was enslaved.
Phillis in London tells her incredible and poignant story. Based on her visit, it re-imagines and dramatises her experience as an African-American/British-American woman writer abroad, in Europe’s greatest capital city, at the height of the slave trade, on the cusp of the American Revolution. It unveils the hidden world of African-Caribbean Georgian Londoners living alongside white Georgians who teamed together as ‘her friends’ whose support helped her fight for freedom.
Prodigy, poet and enslaved woman writer, Phillis set sail three times in her life. How did her ‘out-of-Africa’ and ‘out-of-America’ experiences transform her?
In each episode of the podcast, Claire Kirk (Head of Learning, Interpretation and Collections at the Old Royal Naval College), speaks to maritime historian and Black history expert, S.I. Martin, who curated the exhibition. Conversations delve into the research behind the display and what this research tells us about the lives of Black mariners in London during the 18th and 19th centuries.
As part of the exhibition, two local poets were commissioned to write pieces relating to their own links to the area and its history. You can see the poets performing their work below.