Celebrating Phillis Wheatley - BHS 2023 - Love Camden

Celebrating Phillis Wheatley: Prodigy. Poet. Celebrity. Slave.

Stage performance Panel discussion Black literature

A tribute to the mother of African-American literature.

This event takes place in the British Library. Doors and bar open at 18:00. 

Join us for a celebration of the 250th anniversary of the first book in English by an African-American, published in September 1773 by the 19-year old enslaved prodigy Phillis Wheatley.

When Wheatley visited London in June of that year to arrange publication of her collection, Reflections on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, she became the toast of the town, feted by the political and cultural elite.

But her story is one of triumph of tremendous odds. Kidnapped from West Africa at age 7, she survived the gruelling Middle Passage and enslavement in Boston for 12 years, yet gaining the education to write the book -  only the third book of poetry published by an American woman. Hosted by the Abolitionist Granville Sharp during her London visit, Wheatley finally secured her freedom. Because she was still enslaved during her visit to London, the Georgian African writer and composer, Ignatius Sancho, dubbed her a ‘Genius in bondage’.

Join us to celebrate this remarkable women brought to life on stage with an extract from award-winning playwright, Ade Solanke's original new play, Phillis in London, which dramatises and re-imagines Wheatley’s experience of being an African Woman writer abroad in Georgian London and ‘celebrated’ by the elite of the capital of the British empire at the height of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.  

The performance will be followed by a panel including Ade Solanke and acclaimed publisher and editor of New Daughters of Africa, Margaret Busby. 

Half price tickets available for British Library Members, students, under 26s and other concession groups.



Suppprted by the US Embassy in London and the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library.

Margaret Busby OBE is an independent editor, writer, broadcaster and critic. Born in Ghana and educated in the UK, she became the first Black female publisher - and, at the time, the youngest publisher - in Britain when she co-founded Allison and Busby in 1967, publishing C.L.R. James, Buchi Emecheta, Nuruddin Farah amongst many others. Two years later she made history by publishing Sam Greenlee’s much-rejected novel The Spook Who Sat by the Door, which became required reading at the FBI Academy and is thought to have inspired the Blaxploitation genre in American cinema She has judged numerous literary prizes, including the Caine Prize, Commonwealth Book Prize, Orange Award for New Writers and the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. A long-time cultural activist, Busby has worked continuously for diversity within the publishing industry and has been awarded the Royal Society of Literature’s prestigious Benson Medal and the Royal African Society’s inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award. She was appointed OBE for services to literature and publishing in 2006. Busby is the editor of the acclaimed collections Daughters of Africa and New Daughters of Africa and has contributed to many publications – including the Guardian, Observer, New Statesman and TLS.

Adeola Solanke is an award-winning playwright and screenwriter, and founder of Spora Stories, telling the stories of the African diaspora. Her work has been performed at the Arcola, Almeida, Young Vic, Sheffield Crucible Theatres. Her plays include her acclaimed debut, Pandora’s Box, which won a Best New Play nomination in London’s Off-West End Theatre Awards, and was shortlisted for the $100,000 Nigeria Prize for Literature, Africa’s biggest literary award. It toured to 17 UK venues. Her play, The Court Must Have a Queen, commissioned by Historic Royal Palaces, explored Tudor African trumpeter John Blanke, and was staged in the Great Hall at Hampton Court Palace, Ade is a 22/23 Fulbright Distinguished International Scholar at Emerson College in Boston where her play about Phillis Wheatlley's books on board the Tea Party Ships, is on in November at Old South Meeting House, Phillis's church. She has run playwriting programmes at the Royal Court, Soho and Arcola theatres in London, taught screenwriting at universities in London, Nigeria, Ghana and Zimbabwe, and has written for the BBC, The Guardian, TLS, Art Monthly, The Voice, West Africa Magazine and others.

Please arrive no later than 15 minutes before the start time of this event. 

Piggott Theatre, British Library


19 October 2023

7pm to 8:45pm

From £5

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