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Phillis Wheatley at 250: The Pasts and Futures of Reading and Writing #BlackJoy

Grand Courtroom, Rosenberg College of Law
Speaker(s) / Presenter(s):
Dr. Tara A. Bynum (University of Iowa), Dr. Brigitte Nicole Fielder (University of Wisconsin-Madison), Dr. Cassander L. Smith (The University of Alabama)

This Distinguished Panel considers the legacy of Phillis Wheatley, the first Black woman to publish in the United States. Celebrating the 250 year anniversary of Wheatley’s Poems, Dr. Tara Bynum (Reading Pleasures: Everyday Black Living in Early America), Dr. Brigitte Fielder (Relative Races: Genealogies of Interracial Kinship in Nineteenth-Century America), and Dr. Cassander Smith (Black Africans in the British Imagination: English Narratives of the Early Atlantic) also explore what her history means for the future of African American and American studies. This exciting Black History month event is sponsored by the Department of English, the College of Arts & Sciences Office for Inclusive Excellence, the Commonwealth Institute for Black Studies, the Center for Graduate and Professional Diversity Initiatives, the African American and Africana Studies Program, and the Department of History.

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“Phillis Wheatley’s Image and the Creative Black Child” 
Dr. Brigitte Nicole Fielder 

"Race, Respectability, and Wheatley in Our Present Age"
Dr. Cassander L. Smith

A photo of Tara Bynum

The cover of Reading Pleasures by Tara Bynum

Dr. Tara Bynum is an Assistant Professor of English & African American Studies and a scholar of early African American literary histories before 1800. She received her PhD in English from Johns Hopkins University and a BA in Political Science from Barnard College.

Her current monograph, Reading Pleasures (University of Illinois Press’ New Black Studies, fall 2022), examines the ways in which eighteenth-century enslaved and/or free men and women feel good or experience pleasure in spite of the privations of slavery, “unfreedom,” or white supremacy. It is a pleasure that isn’t beholden to social expectations or systemic oppression, but instead is experienced because of an individual’s commitment to religious faith, friendship, or community building. This work is part of a larger, ongoing project that thinks more deeply about how black communities in the early republic made and shaped the very meaning of nation-building in the greater New England area and beyond. Related essays have appeared or are forthcoming in: Early American Literature, Common-Place, Legacy, J19, Criticism, American Periodicals, and African American Literature in Transition, Vol. 1, 1750-1800.

A photo of Brigitte Fielder

The cover of Relative Races by Brigitte Fielder

Dr. Brigitte Nicole  Fielder is an Associate Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she teaches courses in African American literature, gender, race, childhood studies, and children's literature. She is the author of Relative Races: Genealogies of Interracial Kinship in Nineteenth-Century America (Duke UP, 2020), coeditor of Against a Sharp White Background: Infrastructures of African American Print (University of Wisconsin Press, 2019), coeditor of J19: The Journal of Nineteenth-Century Americanists, and a founder of a Black digital humanities project working to recover Alice Dunbar-Nelson's stories about childhood for readers of all ages. Her current research includes a book on racialized human-animal relationships in the long nineteenth century, which shows how childhood becomes a key site for both humanization and racialization, and a new project on "old tech" and early iterations of Afrofuturist futuring.

A photo of Cassander Smith smiling


Dr. Cassander L. Smith is the Associate Dean for academic affairs in the Honors College and an Associate Professor of English at the University of Alabama. Smith’s teaching and research focus on representations of Black Africans in early Atlantic literature. She is the author of Black Africans in the British Imagination: English Narratives of the Early Atlantic (LSU Press, 2016) and Race and Respectability in an Early Black Atlantic (forthcoming LSU Press, September 2023). She also is the co-editor of several edited volumes, including The Earliest African American Literatures: A Critical Reader, (UNC Press, 2021).