Brigitte Fielder, associate professor in the College of Letters and Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, will deliver the 2022 Gryphon Lecture on April 8. Sponsored annually by the Center for Children’s Books (CCB), the lecture features a leading scholar in the field of youth and literature, media, and culture.
In "Picturing Young, Gifted, and Black: Phillis Wheatley’s Image and the Creative Black Child," Fielder will discuss Phillis Wheatley, the first African American woman to publish a book of poetry. Kidnapped from her home in Senegambia by enslavers at the age of seven or eight, the poet was sold to the Wheatley family in Boston. At the age of thirteen or fourteen, she published her first poem, and at the age of twenty, she published Poems on Various Subjects.
According to Fielder, Wheatley was part of a full Black community. Her interlocutors included enslaved child artist Scipio Moorhead (who is believed to have created a portrait of her) and enslaved poet Jupiter Hammon (who wrote a poem to Wheatley in 1778).
"Wheatley is interesting to me as a scholar of early African American literature, and particularly as someone who focuses on Black women writers," she said. "Black people have always recognized her work's value and importance—from Jupiter Hammon's poem just a few years after the publication of Wheatley's collection of poetry, to discussions of Wheatley in the nineteenth-century Black press, to writing about her in African American children's literature from the nineteenth through the twenty-first century. This is part of what I'll talk about in the Gryphon Lecture."
Fielder is the author of Relative Races: Genealogies of Interracial Kinship in Nineteenth-Century America (Duke University Press, 2020) and coeditor of Against a Sharp White Background: Infrastructures of African American Print (University of Wisconsin Press, 2019). Her teaching interests include early African American literature; nineteenth-century U.S. literature; race, gender, and sexuality studies; children’s literature and childhood studies; and human-animal studies.