Pierce Performance Series

The Pierce Performance Series seeks to raise the visibility of the Boston Public Library's Special Collections through free public performances. Thanks to the generosity of the Harold Whitworth Pierce Charitable Trust our past performances have commemorated the hundredth anniversary of the Peace Jubilee, explored abolitionists' vital messages, celebrated women's suffrage, and examined the lives of Thomas Paine and Phillis Wheatley Peters.

Image

REVISITING the life & influence of one of America's first rebels


Image

COMMEMORATING the 250th anniversary of the publication of PHILLIS' groundbreaking work


The Associates of the Boston Public Library's fifth annual Pierce Performance was held on December 4, 2023 in the BPL's Rabb Hall and virtually for two weeks following the show.

Faces of Phillis featured a staged reading by Adeola Solanke and directed by Regge Life, a panel discussion, and a poetry reading. The three-part literary evening was held to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the publication of Phillis Wheatley Peters' groundbreaking book, Poems of Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, in 1773.

The event was featured in The Boston Globe on December 1st:
Faces of Phillis’ Imagines Phillis Wheatley’s Life for the 250th Anniversary of her Poetry Collection

To view highlights from this performance, please visit YouTube.

Pierce Performance 2023
In honor of the 250th anniversary of the publication of Poems of Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, the 2023 Pierce Performance Series focused on Phillis Wheatley Peters.

This three-part literary event started with "Faces of Phillis," a staged reading written by Adeola Solanke and directed by Regge Life. The reading dramatized key moments from Phillis Wheatley Peters’ life. A talented ensemble of actors portrayed the historical figures Phillis Wheatley Peters, Obour Tanner, John Peters, Scipio Moorhead, and Elizabeth Freeman. This was followed by a panel discussion, moderated by Lisa Rafferty, featuring Ade Solanke, our playwright, Meredith Bergmann, the sculptor for the 2003 Boston Women’s Memorial, and Kyera Singleton, the Executive Director of the Royall House Museum. The evening concluded with the City of Boston’s Poet Laureate, Porsha Olayiwola, performing a dramatic reading of one of Phillis’s poems, as well as her own work inspired by Phillis.


Background
Phillis Wheatley Peters (1753-1784) was an early American poet and correspondent who became a transatlantic literary celebrity while enslaved in Boston. As both a Black woman enslaved in pre-Revolutionary Boston and an internationally renowned poet, Phillis Wheatley Peters navigated a world of complexity and contradiction. Even today, her biography defies conventional categories and unanswered questions about her life and work abound.

When she was approximately seven years old, Phillis Wheatley Peters (whose birth name we do not know) was kidnapped near the coast of West Africa and forced into captivity. After enduring the Middle Passage, she arrived in Boston Harbor in the summer of 1761. There, she was purchased by her enslavers, the prominent Bostonian couple Susanna and John Wheatley, who renamed Phillis after the ship that had brought her to the city.

Phillis Wheatley Peters composed her first poems as a young teenager. Through her position within John and Susanna Wheatley’s evangelical household, she eventually built connections with some of the leading religious and political figures of the day. In 1770, her elegy on the death of the Reverend George Whitefield brought her fame in the colonies, while her collection, Poems of Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, published in 1773, made her a transatlantic celebrity. She was the first African American and the third American woman in the United States to publish a book of poetry. Read More Here.


Collaborators



RESOURCES


Past Pierce Performances