Phillis Wheatley (c.1753-1784)
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Born in 1753 in Africa, Phillis Wheatley was kidnapped and sold at a slave auction at age seven to a prosperous Boston family who educated her and treated her as a family member. Rescued from an otherwise hopeless situation by the sympathies of the Wheatley family, Phillis learned English with remarkable speed, and, although she never attended a formal school, she also learned Greek and Latin.
Phillis Wheatley received her freedom and married a free black man in 1778 but, despite her skills, was never able to support her family. Although she died in complete poverty, subsequent generations would pick up where she left off. Wheatley was the first black writer of consequence in America; and her life was an inspiring example to future generations of African-Americans. In the 1830s, abolitionists reprinted her poetry and the powerful ideas contained in her deeply moving verse stood against the institution of slavery.
To the students at the University of Cambridge in New England (Harvard), she wrote:
While an intrinsic ardor prompts to write,
Students, to you 'tis given to scan the heights
Improve your privileges while they stay,
The Collected Works of Phillis Wheatley (Schomburg Library of Nineteenth Century Black Women Writers)
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Pub. Date: December 1989
Format: Textbook Paperback, 339pp
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Volumes of compelling and rare works
of fiction, poetry, autobiography, biography, essays, and journalism written by
19th century black woman.
The past two decades have seen a dramatic resurgence of interest in black women writers, as authors such as Alice Walker and Toni Morrison have come to dominate the larger Afro-American literary landscape. Yet the works of the writers who founded and nurtured the black women's literary tradition--nineteenth-century Afro-American women--have remained buried in research libraries or in expensive hard-to-find reprints, often inaccessible to twentieth-century readers.
Oxford University Press, in collaboration with the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, a research unit of The New York Public Library, rescued the voice of an entire segment of the black tradition by offering thirty volumes of these compelling and rare works of fiction, poetry, autobiography, biography, essays, and journalism. Responding to the wide recognition this series has received, Oxford now presents four of these volumes in paperback. Each book contains an introduction written by an expert in the field, as well as an overview by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the General Editor.
Individually, each of these four works now in paperback--including The Journals of Charlotte Forten Grimke, Elizabeth Keckley's Behind the Scenes: Or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House, Six Women's Slave Narratives, and The Collected Works of Phillis Wheatley--stands as a unique literary contribution in its own right. Collectively providing a rich sampling of the range of works written by black women over the course of more than a century, they pay tribute (now long overdue) to an extraordinary and influential group of Afro-American women. These new editions will enable teachers, students, and general readers ofAmerican literature, history, Afro-American culture, and women's studies to hear at last, and learn from, the lost voice of the nineteenth-century black woman writer.
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Pub. Date: February 2001
Format: Paperback, 272pp
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
In 1761, a young girl arrived in Boston
on a slave ship, sold to the Wheatley family, and given the name Phillis
Wheatley. Struck by Phillis' extraordinary precociousness, the Wheatleys
provided her with an education that was unusual for a woman of the time and
astonishing for a slave. After studying English and classical literature,
geography, the Bible, and Latin, Phillis published her first poem in 1767 at the
age of 14, winning much public attention and considerable fame. When Boston
publishers who doubted its authenticity rejected an initial collection of her
poetry, Wheatley sailed to London in 1773 and found a publisher there for Poems
on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral.
This volume collects both Wheatley's letters and her poetry: hymns, elegies, translations, philosophical poems, tales, and epyllions-including a poignant plea to the Earl of Dartmouth urging freedom for America and comparing the country's condition to her own. With her contemplative elegies and her use of the poetic imagination to escape an unsatisfactory world, Wheatley anticipated the Romantic Movement of the following century. The appendices to this edition include poems of Wheatley's contemporary African-American poets: Lucy Terry, Jupiter Harmon, and Francis Williams.