The extraordinary writings of Phillis Wheatley, a slave girl turned published poet
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.
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About the Author
Phillis Wheatley (1753?-1784) was born in western Africa, most likely in present-day Gambia or Ghana. Having failed to find an American publisher for a second volume of her works, Wheatley died in Boston largely forgotten and impoverished.
Vincent Carretta is professor of English at the University of Maryland, College Park. He is the editor of the Penguin Classics editions of the Complete Writings of Phillis Wheatley, Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho, an African, and Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil of Slavery and Other Writings by Ottobah Cugoano.
"What a marvelous edition of Phillis Wheatley's COMPLETE WRITINGS Vincent Carretta has produced for Penguin Classics. Here are all her poems including extant verse not included in her first volume as well as variants of others. Here are also her letters and the important proposals for her volumes of poetry. Additionally, Carretta has added work by her black contemporaries Lucy Terry Prince, Jupiter Hammon, and Francis Williams to help readers contextualize black literary activity in the late eighteenth century. Carretta has also written an illuminating introduction and included suggestions for further read and notes. In short, this is a fantastic edition for the specialist, the student, and the informed general reader. It will be widely used." --Kathryn Zabelle Derounian-Stodola, Univ of Arkansas at Little Rock
"Vincent Carretta's edition of the works of Phillis Wheatley is the definitive collection of her work. Expertly edited, it is a masterpiece of textual scholarship. Every scholar and student seeking to understand Wheatley's life and work will want to obtain this book." --Henry Louis Gates