Yolanda Wisher’s Rent Party at the Rosenbach

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Date / Time

  • February 27, 2019
    6:00 pm - 7:30 pm


2008-2010 Delancey Place, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 19103, United States

Oak & Ivy

The Oak & Ivy Edition explores the complicated lives and work of married poets Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906) and Alice Dunbar-Nelson (1875-1935). Born in Dayton, Ohio, Paul Laurence Dunbar was known both affectionately and notoriously for writing in traditional English and African American dialect. Oak and Ivy, his first collection of poems, was published in 1893 and is part of the Rosenbach’s collection. As a young man, Paul sold copies of the book to passengers on his shift as an elevator operator. At the height of his fame, he was dubbed “The Poet Laureate of the Negro Race” by Booker T. Washington. He died at the age of 33 from tuberculosis. Alice Dunbar-Nelson was a prolific writer of poetry, short stories, essays, and articles. She published her first book Violets and Other Tales at the age of 20. Born among a French Creole of color community in New Orleans, Louisiana, Alice was educated in a teacher training program at Straight University. An outspoken advocate for civil rights and women’s suffrage, she died in Philadelphia from a heart ailment at age 60. Alice and Paul were part of the first generation of African Americans to be born free to formerly enslaved parents. Their two-year correspondence led to a secret elopement in 1898. The marriage was a subject of awe and scandal among Black elites of their day, and it was short-lived–ruined by rape, abuse, alcoholism, and mental illness. Oak & Ivy is a requiem for Alice’s and Paul’s tumultuous union and their enduring creative legacies.

This program is sponsored by Amy Finkel and Richard Braemer.

Featured Poets

Janice Lowe & Namaroon: composer-poet Janice Lowe, current Fellow in Poetics and Poetic Practice for the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing at the University of Pennsylvania and author of Leaving CLE poems of nomadic dispersal (Miami University Press).

Poet and spoken word artist Kirwyn Sutherland, co-founder of the Modern Lit workshop series for poets of color and author of a forthcoming chapbook from Thread Makes Blanket Press.

Yolanda Wisher is the author of Monk Eats an Afro (Hanging Loose Press, 2014) and the co-editor of Peace is a Haiku Song (Philadelphia Mural Arts, 2013). Wisher performs a unique blend of poetry and song with her band The Afroeaters, and her work has been featured in a variety of media including Gathering Ground: A Reader Celebrating Cave Canem’s First Decade, GOOD Magazine, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Contemporary Black Canvas, Radio Times, PoetryNOW, Ploughshares, and CBC Radio. A Pew Fellow & Hedgebrook Writer-in-Residence, Wisher was named the inaugural Poet Laureate of Montgomery County Pennsylvania in 1999 and the third Poet Laureate of Philadelphia in 2016. Wisher taught high school English for a decade, served as Director of Art Education for Philadelphia Mural Arts, and founded and directed the Germantown Poetry and Outbound Poetry Festivals. She has led workshops and curated events in partnership with the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Free Library of Philadelphia, and U.S. Department of Arts & Culture. Wisher was the 2017-2018 CPCW Fellow in Poetics and Poetic Practice at the University of Pennsylvania, and she is currently the Curator of Spoken Word at Philadelphia Contemporary.

About Yolanda Wisher’s Rent Party at the Rosenbach

Yolanda Wisher’s Rent Party at the Rosenbach invokes the tradition of the rent party dating back to the Harlem Renaissance, when communal gatherings of artists fed an outpouring of blues, jazz, and poetry. Rent parties were some of the original house parties. Guests would pay a small fee for homespun food, prohibited drink and live entertainment. Sometimes a piano was hauled up a few flights of stairs for the occasion. While they were designed to help the host pay their rent with the help of a few friends spreading the word, the ancestral rent parties were also incubators of cultural innovation.

Curated and hosted by Philadelphia Poet Laureate Emerita Yolanda Wisher, each rent party features readings by two contemporary poets from different schools of thought and craft in addition to a performance Wisher and her band The Afroeaters, reviving a vintage work of jazz poetry or premiering a new work inspired by the Rosenbach’s collection. The series is an ongoing love letter to the literary past, often focusing on a writer whose work has been lost, forgotten, or misunderstood. Previous rent parties have highlighted the poetry of The Black Opals collective, a group of young African Americans writing in Philadelphia during the 1920s; the legacy of Phillis Wheatley, the first published African American poet; and Ask Your Mama, a jazz poem composed by Langston Hughes.

Following the performance, Rent Party guests are invited to sip a signature cocktail and mingle with the poets and musicians. They can purchase books or CDs by the featured artists and get them signed in person. Seating is limited; advance registration is strongly recommended.

About Performances at the Rosenbach

From adaptations of beloved classics from page to stage to interactive performances inspired by great literature, experience theatrical arts in an intimate setting.

  • Seating is limited; advance registration is strongly recommended
  • A specialty cocktail is included with admission