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"Favored by the Muses": A Multidisciplinary Collaboration Celebrating the African American Poet Phillis Wheatley Peters

Associate Professor of Theatre and Film
Favored by the Muses
400 Fine Arts Building

UGA students, faculty, and Athens community members have had the opportunity to collaborate this semester on a unique and original performance presentation titled Favored by the Muses. Favored by the Musesis the culmination of a year-long collaboration between UGA and TCU Humanities and Education programs that celebrates the literary and cultural legacy of America’s first published black female poet, Phillis Wheatley Peters (1753-1784), and the sesquicentennial of her collection, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (1773).

The presentation will take place during the annual Spotlight on the Arts Festival on November 6th in the Balcony Theatre (Room 400) of the Fine Arts Building at 7 p.m., followed by a Q&A with participants.  This event is free and open to the public and is generously funded by a Public Impact Grant from the University of Georgia’s Willson Center for Humanities and Arts.

This performance project represents an innovative collaboration between faculty and students in the University of Georgia's departments of English, Theatre and Film Studies, African Studies, African American Studies, Music, Digital Media, and Dance, as well as Athens community members. They recreate elements of 1934’s Phillis Wheatley Pageant, written by the early 20th century Black activist, educator, and clubwoman, Mary Church Terrell (1863-1954). Composed by Terrell to critically commemorate the bicentennial of George Washington’s birth while honoring the heritage of Phyllis Wheatley, the Phyllis Wheatley Pageant tells the story of the poet’s kidnapping from Senegambia, her enslavement as a child in 1761, and her subsequent rise to transatlantic literary fame as a teen and young adult. The script for Favored by the Muses< is written and directed by Professor George Contini (Performance Area Head and Josiah Meigs Distinguished Teaching Professor, Theatre & Film Studies). It is drawn completely from his research of Terrell’s manuscripts and letters held at the Library of Congress and Howard University’s Moorland-Spingarn Research Center.

The cast is headed by Dr. Freda Scott Giles (Emerita Professor, Theatre & Film Studies), who portrays Terrell delivering a speech to Delta Sigma Theta sorority members about her rationale for and experience creating the pageant. Terrell was a major advocate of overlooked Black artists and musicians. In the pageant, for example, she included the music of the pioneering Black composers Robert Nathaniel Dett (1882-1943) and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912).  Professor James Weidman (Music, African American Studies) will conduct selections from their compositions during the performance. In addition, Professor Jason Aryeh (Dance, African Studies) has choreographed authentic African dance pieces. The ensemble for Favored by the Muses includes Aayush Umesh, Shea Cianfrani, Shalom Osoba, Mia Reese, Jeshua Segura-Dominguez, Bethany Southerland, and Robert Tucker. Media Design is by Philip Brankin. Stage Managers are Elliot Smith and Faith Horton.

This imaginative project has offered opportunities for interdisciplinary scholarship, community outreach, and innovative arts research and practice as UGA artists bring archives to life. This project is supported by the Willson Center for Humanities and Arts and The Genius of Phillis Wheatley Peters: A Poet and Her Legacies, co-directed by Dr. Barbara McCaskill (UGA), Dr. Sarah Ruffing Robbins (TCU), and Dr. Mona Narain (TCU).

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