A forgotten piece of theater history came to life— with a modern artistic twist—during the University of Georgia’s Spotlight on the Arts festival in November.

“Favored by the Muses” celebrated the life and works of America’s first published Black female poet, Phillis Wheatley Peters, and the 150th anniversary of her poetry collection “Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral.”

The project was a collaboration between faculty and students in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences departments of English, Theatre and Film Studies, African Studies, African American Studies, Music, Digital Media, and Dance, as well as local Athens community members.

In the piece, performers recreated elements of 1934’s “Phillis Wheatley Pageant,” written by the early 20th century Black activist Mary Church Terrell, which tells Peters’ story beginning with her kidnapping in Senegambia and her eventual rise to literary fame as a teen and young adult.

“Just as the original pageant accomplished, the collaboration of actors, musicians, dancers, students, faculty, and community members created a one-of-a-kind presentation,” said its writer and director, Professor George Contini, performance area head and Josiah Meigs Distinguished Teaching Professor in Theatre & Film Studies.

The script for “Favored by the Muses” is drawn completely from Contini’s research of Terrell’s manuscripts and letters held at the Library of Congress and Howard University’s Moorland-Spingarn Research Center.

“This collaboration enabled audiences and participants to reconsider how these two great Black women’s stories speak to us today,” Contini said. “In the end, what began as an appreciation of this forgotten pageant became a reminder of the importance of artistic legacies and cultural stewardship.”

“Favored by the Muses’ was performed on Nov. 6, 2023, in the Balcony Theatre of the Fine Arts Building to an audience of over 50 people. A lively Q&A followed the performance, with insightful questions about the importance of Black women’s stories and their legacies.

This short documentary gives a behind-the-scenes look at the production.