Carter a Natural to Write Play about Poet Wheatley

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), October 7, 2005 | Go to article overview

Carter a Natural to Write Play about Poet Wheatley


Byline: Jack Helbig

How did Lonnie Carter, an Obie Award-winning, white playwright, come to write about America's first published African-American poet in the play "Wheatley," now running in previews at Victory Gardens in Chicago?

Carter's laconic answer: He was ordered to.

"It started in January 2000," he said, "that's when Andre Shields was curating a Black History Month celebration at La MaMa (off-off-Broadway in New York). Shields and I go way back. He ordered me to write 10 minutes on Phillis Wheatley."

Carter, equally known for his highly poetic plays and his openness to other, non-white, non-European cultures, was a natural playwright for the task.

"I had read some of her poetry," Carter said. "But I knew nothing about her life."

The more Carter read, the more obsessed he became with Phyllis Wheatley.

"She is such a fascinating person. She really is the mother of all women of color artists. She had a wonderful linguistic talent."

The fact that she was a slave only added to her allure as a poet. Born in Africa, Wheatley was kidnapped as a child and sold into slavery to a prosperous Boston family. It was her good luck that the family purchased her, educated her and treated her as a family member. …

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