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              The Age of Phillis, by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers

Honorée Fanonne Jeffers








About the Common Reading Initiative

The ‘common reading’ experience has become a popular strategy in U.S. colleges and universities in recent years to help students acclimate to academic life. The experience simultaneously creates a sense of community centered on a single book and showcases diversity of thought as students share their various interactions with the text. Building on the benefits of this approach, members of the SEA Program Committee are excited to organize a common reading initiative as part of the 12th biennial meeting, to be held online in March 2021. The featured text is The Age of Phillis, by award-winning poet Honorée Jeffers. Inspired by the work of Phillis Wheatley Peters, The Age of Phillis is based on Jeffers’s fifteen years of archival research into Wheatley Peters’s life. The book considers more fully the world of Wheatley Peters before and after enslavement.

SEA is collaborating with administrators and faculty at colleges and universities across the country to incorporate Jeffers’s and Wheatley’s poetry in their summer, fall and spring curriculums through course work, independent study, and book clubs. In terms of assignments, faculty could do something as simple as have students compare/contrast the texts of Wheatley Peters and Jeffers. They might ask students to discuss points of craft and genre or talk about how historical moments and figures inform modern-day creative works. Students might discuss how and why Wheatley works as a muse for present-day creative writers. To assist with course design, members of the 2021 SEA Program African American Panel Stream sub-committee (Tara Bynum, Brigitte Fielder, and Cassander L. Smith) have worked in collaboration with Jeffers to craft the teaching resources available on this page. However administrators and faculty choose to incorporate the texts, the idea is to prepare students to participate in the SEA conference in any of the following ways:

1.  There will be a colloquium-style plenary, tentatively scheduled for the opening evening of the conference. During that plenary, presented virtually, Jeffers will read from her collection. Then, Jeffers and students will participate in a dialogue about Wheatley Peters. Students will be able to pose questions to Jeffers about her process and/or present their own ideas about the works.

2.  With the move of the 2021 conference to an all-virtual format, students will be able to contribute a variety of digital and multimodal projects for virtual display on the conference website.

3. Depending on interest, there is also the possibility of student-led panels that would run concurrently with other panel sessions.


Common Reading Initiative Student Resources


Common Reading Initiative Teacher Resources

For more information about the initiative or the teaching resources available on this page, you can contact the following committee members:

Tara Bynum, University of Iowa,
Patrick Erben, University of West Georgia,
Brigitte Fielder, University of Wisconsin,
Michelle Bachelor Robinson, Spelman College,
Cassander L. Smith, University of Alabama,


Return to the main Twelfth Biennial SEA Conference page: SEA 2021 Biennial

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