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Pages From Pequot: Connections--Black Poets & Writers American Visionaries 1700s - Present

Friday, February 06, 2015, 10:00am - 06:00pm

black poets misc webCollageOn view through May 8, 2015 during normal library hours

Schedule your tour for School Groups: (203) 259-0346 ext. 17 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

"Page Turnings & Poetry Readings" Fridays at 10:45am, see four dates below.
Enjoy a private tour of the exhibition and see our historic books up close and personal.
2/20/15: Join First Selectman Michael Tetreau and your neighbors for Coffee & Croissant Donuts, for a private tour of the exhibition.

  • View a selection of rare books from Pequot Library’s Special Collections, some published as early as1773
  • Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, 1773, signed by Phillis Wheatley is in its original binding—medium brown sheep hair over paste boards and letter-pressed text with frontispiece engraving printed in black ink on medium-weight cream laid paper
  • Authors include Jupiter Hammon, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois, Countee Cullen, and Paul Laurence Dunbar
  • Signed first editions on loan include works by Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, and Langston Hughes

The exhibition is free and open to the public.

Join us for a Wine & Cheese Reception on March 14 at 5:30pm

Connections: Black Poets & Writers showcases poetry and prose by eleven American visionaries.  This exhibition makes connections between the past and the present, the reader and the material on display, and the writers themselves. Collectively, through centuries, these writers explore themes of freedom, identity, Christianity, appreciation of God, nature, autonomy, injustice, color, love, race, and voice.

Starting with the work of Jupiter Hammon and a signed first edition of Phillis Wheatley’s poetry book published in 1773, Connections: Black Poets & Writers takes the viewer from the 1700s to present day. Also included are works by Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois, James Weldon Johnson, Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Aaron Douglas, Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, Maya Angelou, and Toni Morrison.

Born in Long Island into slavery, Jupiter Hammon is considered the first Black published writer, while West African-born Phillis Wheatley is regarded as the first female Black published poet. She was the youngest published female author until the twentieth century. These inspiring visionaries created eloquent prose at a time when black people were not considered humans or allowed to be citizens in the United States. In addition to inspiring future writers and poets, their work motivated generations of African-Americans who fought for the abolition of slavery and for civil rights.

Frederick Douglass was a great orator, writer, and supporter to secure the right for black men to vote. W.E.B. DuBois, James Weldon Johnson, Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Aaron Douglas, Langston Hughes, and Countee Cullen participated in creating a cultural synergy during the Harlem Renaissance. Nobel laureate Toni Morrison and award-winning poet Maya Angelou have written transformative works into the twenty-first century.   

This exhibition features an extraordinary collection of three copies of Phillis Wheatley’s Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral printed in 1773 (first signed edition), 1786, and 1804. Printed in London, Philadelphia, and Hartford respectively, these books contain her personal poetry. They tell the story of her popularity that continued on both sides of the Atlantic well into the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.

Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral
by Phillis Wheatley, Negro servant to Mr. John Wheatley of Boston, in New England, Archibald Bell of London, Printer, 1773, First edition, signed by Phillis Wheatley

The first African-American female published poet, Phillis Wheatley was born in modern day Senegal or Gambia. At eight years old, she was brought on a slave ship to Boston, where John and Susanna Wheatley purchased her. The Wheatleys, a progressive family, quickly appreciated Phillis’ intelligence and curiosity for learning, and educated her in theology, Latin, and Greek. Phillis was inspired by Greek and Latin poetry, philosophers, and 18th century English poets. In 1773 Phillis Wheatley published her first and only book of poetry.  After failing to find a publisher in the colonies, Selina Hastings, the Countess of Huntingdon, made its publication possible by securing Archibald Bell of London as the printer.

This book is signed by Phillis and is in its original binding—medium brown sheep hair over paste boards and letter-pressed text and frontispiece engraving printed in black ink on medium-weight cream laid paper.

The preface contains a letter written by John Wheatley explaining how Phillis was taught by the family. An attestation verifying the authorship of Phillis’ poems by eighteen notable Bostonians is also in the preface. 

Phillis wrote numerous additional works. Though eventually granted freedom, her later years were difficult. Her marriage to emancipated slave John Peters produced three children who died in infancy. Phillis died in 1784 in Boston at age 31.

A pioneer in African-American literature, Phillis is credited with significantly helping to create its foundation. Her influence as a writer goes beyond poetry and literature by proving that if given the opportunity, African slaves had the same intellectual capacity and creativity as Europeans. Phillis provided inspiration to future generations of African-Americans who fought for the abolition of slavery and civil rights.

Poet Kamau Brathwaite, a voice in the Carribean literary canon, is incorporated through a comparison of his poetry and that of William Shakespeare, the former of which more masterfully intertwines the concepts of nationality and oral tradition. Brathwaite uses typographic innovation in order to re-imagine classic literary characters to facilitate an exploration of the identity of African-Caribbean slaves and servants.

Mostly first editions, and several signed by the authors, the books on display have been selected from Pequot Library’s Special Collections. Also included is material on loan by local libraries, university libraries, and Llew Almeida, plus related work by local students Annabel Barry and Elizabeth Van Winkle.

This “Pages from Pequot” exhibition is organized and curated by Pequot Library Director Heather-Marie Montilla. Special recognition and acknowledgment to high school seniors Annabel Barry and Elizabeth Van Winkle, who contributed content to this exhibition. Additional thanks to Pequot librarians and staff, especially Marianne Pysarchyk, and volunteers Lynn Van Winkle, Gina Ludlow, Cynthia Crawford, Andrea Shantz, Alison Barry, Ryan LeClair, Celie Campbell, Robert Gaunt, and others.

Connections: Black Poets & Writers is made possible through a generous gift in memory of Richard M. Carpenter and the Constance C. Baker Rare Book Fund. Additional support was provided by the Town of Fairfield and the Friends of the Pequot Library Association.


Location : The Perkin Gallery and the Reading Room
Contact : (203) 259-0346 ext. 15