Obour Tanner’s Archive; or, How to Remember Your (Famous) Friend, Phillis Wheatley

September 18, 2023

On Various Subjects: 250 Years of Phillis Wheatley was curated by UW-Madison professors Brigitte Fielder and Jonathan Senchyne in collaboration with the Center for the History of Print and Digital Culture and the Department of Special Collections. Materials are drawn from the Department of Special Collections, CCBC, WHS, and Memorial Library, as well as the curators’ personal collections. This exhibit celebrates the semi-quincentennial of Poems on Various Subjects and traces how Wheatley’s poetry, image, and name have been reprinted, recirculated, and remixed by and for educators, activists, artists, and readers of all ages in every era over the last 250 years. Here, Wheatley’s 18th-century publications, highlighted by the first edition of Poems on Various Subjects Religious and Moral, are in conversation with the two-and-a-half centuries of Black art, thought, and action that she directly inspired. On Various Subjects: 250 Years of Phillis Wheatley invites you to witness how Wheatley’s legacy has been held out as an example of excellence among Black people (particularly girls and women), celebrated as an inspiration for artists and intellectuals, and presented as evidence in arguments against the degradations of slavery and racism.

Join the Friends of the Libraries on October 19 at the Wisconsin Historical Society at 4:30 p.m. for a special presentation by Dr. Bynum, an Assistant Professor of English & African-American Studies at the University of Iowa. In celebration of the 250th anniversary of Phillis Wheatley’s published book of poetry, Dr. Bynum will explore the archival evidence of joy and friendship that flourished between Wheatley and Obour Tanner, her most frequent letter correspondent. Wheatley, an enslaved person, was the first person of color to publish written work and was one of the best-known poets in pre-19th century America.

Thursday, October 19
Wisconsin Historical Society Auditorium
4:30-5:30 P.M. Presentation
5:30-6:30 P.M. Reception and Book Signing