New York Society Library Writing Life Poets
Black Literature Matters: The 1700s
In this original series of live online events, hear the voices of Black writers through history re-examined to inspire understanding of race in our country today.
Black Literature Matters celebrates Black writers in four extraordinary evenings, beginning with works from the 1700s. The writers include Olaudah Equiano (shown at left), Venture Smith, and Phillis Wheatley. Head Librarian Carolyn Waters and Columbia University's Dr. Farah Jasmine Griffin introduce the writers, their worlds, and the impact they had on readers of their time, with dramatic readings by actors Shontelle Thrash and Geoffrey D. Williams.
As New York City's oldest cultural institution, we are honored to do our part to highlight the thousands of stories by African American writers contained within our building and acquired since the 1700s.
Watch our announcements for events about the 1800s, 1900s, and 2000s in winter and spring 2021.
Farah Jasmine Griffin is Chair of African-American & African Diaspora Studies, Director of the Institute for Research in African American Studies, and the William B. Ransford Professor of English and Comparative Literature and African-American Studies at Columbia University. Professor Griffin received her B.A. from Harvard, where she majored in American History and Literature and her Ph.D. in American Studies from Yale. Her major fields of interest are American and African American literature, music, and history. She has published widely on issues of race and gender, feminism, jazz and cultural politics.
Carolyn Waters has been Head Librarian at the New York Society Library since 2015.
Writer, performer, and educator Shontelle Thrash has performed nationally and internationally and directed plays and other works across the US. Shontelle received her MFA in Acting from Louisiana State University and her MA in Film, Video and Digital Imaging from Georgia State University.
Geoffrey D. Williams' broad range of theater credits include Hoke Coleburn in Driving Miss Daisy, Walter Lee Younger in A Raisin in the Sun (2004 Jennie Award for Best Performance of an Actor in a Lead Role), and multiple productions of The Piano Lesson. He has been seen onscreen in The Trip to Bountiful for Lifetime Television, Separate But Equal for Disney/MGM Studios, the feature film The Leisure Seeker, and television including HBO's Boycott, AMC's Lodge #49, The CW's Containment, Fox's Sleepy Hollow, and FX's Atlanta.
The writers featured in this program include
- James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw, A Narrative of the Most Remarkable Particulars in the Life of James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw, an African Prince, as Related by Himself
- Olaudah Equiano, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African
- Venture Smith, A Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Venture, a Native of Africa: But Resident above Sixty Years in the United States of America, Related by Himself
- Phillis Wheatley, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral by Phillis Wheatley, Negro Servant to Mr. John Wheatley of Boston, in New England
- Jupiter Hammon