LC State Welcomes Honoree Fanonne Jeffers

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Ally G

Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, a renowned award-winning author of novels, poems, and essays, spoke at the first virtual reading of the year at LC State on Wednesday evening, sharing poetry from her latest work, The Age of Phillis.

Hosting this event was Professor Jennifer Anderson, Jada Wyms, and Brooks Juhasz. They set the stage for a heartfelt and powerful reading by Professor Jeffers.

The Age of Phillis tells the journey of the “first published African American Poet, Phillis Wheatley Peters, better known as Phillis Wheatley,” Wyms said.

Professor Jeffers uses her powerful poetry language to give imagery to the life of Phillis Wheatley Peters, who wrote amazing works of poetry in 1773. Professor Jeffers researched Wheatley for over fifteen years to create The Age of Phillis.

“I have been in the archives since 1990,” Professor Jeffers said in the meeting, “I don’t ever envision a time where I’m not in the archives.”

The amount of research and care put into her writing can be seen from miles away. Professor Jeffers is an award winning scholar, including being “elected into the American Antiquarian Society, a group which has featured fourteen previous presidents of the United States,” Juhasz shared.

Professor Jeffers has also received the Harper Lee Award. More recently, Oprah Winfrey included Professor Jeffers’ first novel, The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois, in her latest book club selection – a high accomplishment for authors.

“Wow, may I say this is her very first novel, and it is epic!” Oprah said, “I was just enraptured by the lineage and the story of this modern African American family.”

This is just one of the many successes for Professor Jeffers, who uses her talents to shine light on historical people and stories that need to be told. A question-and-answer session followed her reading, and Professor Anderson asked, “What was your process for writing The Age of Phillis?”

Professor Jeffers gave a brilliant answer, referencing Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr., a current Harvard
professor as well as a historian, award-winning filmmaker, and journalist.

“When I first began writing the story,” Professor Jeffers explained, “I had read an excerpt from a forthcoming book, by the great Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr., The Trials of Phillis Wheatley.”

Professor Jeffers continued, “Dr. Gates was talking about the relationship between who Phillis Wheatley represented, and the beginnings of notions about race in Europe.”

“Connecting a particular hierarchy to skin color,” Professor Jeffers points out, “to how we began to order people.” Professor Jeffers described, “Miss Phillis, this teenager…was challenging these notions of racial hierarchy, because she was a genius.”

Putting a spotlight on the inhumane challenges Phillis Wheatley Peters had to endure, Professor Jeffers told a heartbreaking reality.

“People were debating whether black people felt pain, whether they were human, some people were debating this,” Professor Jeffers said, “it was very disturbing.”

When reading her poems, Professor Jeffers speaks with a heartfelt truthfulness, and a unique and thought-provoking melodic rhythm.

“I think about what Miss Phillis must have gone through, and there’s a connection that I feel with her,” Professor Jeffers said, “I feel like she chose me to write this book.”

Honorée Fanonne Jeffers has a magnetic and beautiful writing style, and The Age of Phillis brings
Phillis Wheatley Peters’ story a new, personal light. This event was sponsored and made possible by the LCSC Humanities Division, and the Rosehill Estate. For those who are interested viewing this event, Professor Jeffers’ live reading can be found on the
LCSC Humanities Division Youtube channel. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8NT9zOVvOxc