Poems of Phillis Wheatley With Letters and a Memoir

ISBN-10: 048647593X
ISBN-13: 9780486475936
Edition: 2010
List price: $8.95 Buy it from $7.58
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Description: Born in Africa in 1753, Phillis Wheatley was kidnapped at the age of 7 and sold into slavery. At 19, she became the first black American poet to publish a book, on which this volume is based. Wheatley's elegies and odes offer fascinating glimpses  More...

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Book details

List price: $8.95
Copyright year: 2010
Publisher: Dover Publications, Incorporated
Publication date: 1/1/2010
Binding: Paperback
Pages: 96
Size: 5.50" wide x 8.25" long x 0.50" tall
Weight: 0.242
Language: English

Born in Africa in 1753, Phillis Wheatley was kidnapped at the age of 7 and sold into slavery. At 19, she became the first black American poet to publish a book, on which this volume is based. Wheatley's elegies and odes offer fascinating glimpses into the origins of African-American literary traditions.

Seized in Senegal/Gambia, West Africa by slave traders, Phillis Wheatley arrived in Boston when she was about seven years old. Purchased as a domestic in 1761, by Susanna and John Wheatley, Phillis Wheatley was frail and asthmatic. Perhaps because of her delicate constitution, she was excused from the most tiring aspects of her domestic duties. Instead, she was taught to read and write and was instructed in the Bible and the classics. Before she was thirteen, Wheatley was writing poetry that gained quick and widespread acclaim; in 1770 she published her first poem---"An Elegiac Poem on the Death of that Celebrated Divine, and Eminent Servant of Jesus Christ, the Reverend and Learned George Whitefield"---a work that touched on the terrible conditions of her own Atlantic crossing. By 1772 Phillis Wheatley had compiled a collection of verse. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of John and Susanna Wheatley, no publisher within the colonies was willing to print literature written by an African. Nonetheless, the Wheatleys persisted in their search, and through the intervention of Benjamin Franklin and various British sympathizers, including the abolitionist Earl of Dartmouth, they succeeded in finding a publisher for the work. Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral was printed in London in 1772; it is the first collection of poetry written by an African American to be published. Three months before Susanna Wheatley died in 1774 she manumitted (freed) Phillis Wheatley. But with Susanna's death, the Wheatley family disintegrated, and Phillis Wheatley suffered from severe financial difficulties during the Revolutionary War. Despite the voiced misgivings of her friends, Phillis Wheatley married John Peters in 1778. Their marriage was troubled by penury and sickness; in 1784, John Peters was confined to jail because of debt. Wheatley bore three children. Of these, two died in infancy and the third outlived her mother by only a few days. Desperate for assistance, Wheatley worked as a charwoman and maid. Destitute, sick, and alone, Phillis Wheatley died in 1784; she was barely thirty. Wheatley wrote approximately 145 poems, including the 64-line work "Liberty and Peace," published as a pamphlet under the name of Phillis Peters. Criticized during the early part of this century for not more openly addressing the theme of slavery, Wheatley's work combines Christian imagery and classical typology with an undeniably elegiac tone. Recent scholarship suggests that her Biblical allusions and metaphors demonstrate an antipathy to slavery and that her elegant and educated verse served to undermine colonial institutions of power.

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