I love reading about strong, determined women. The following information was gathered from various sites via the Internet, such as http://www.lkwdpl.org/wihohio/whea-phi.htm, http://www.biography.com/people/phillis-wheatley-9528784, http://www.vcu.edu/engweb/webtexts/Wheatley/philbio.htm

Her published work: Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. London: Printed for Archibald Bell and Sold in Boston by Cox and Berry, 1773.

Phillis Wheatley was one of the most well-known poets in America during her day. Wheatley was born on the western coast of Africa and kidnapped from the Senegal-Gambia region when she was about seven years old. Not being of suitable age to be sold as a slave in the West Indies or the southern colonies, she was transported to Boston, where she was purchased in 176l by John Wheatley, a prominent tailor, as an attendant to his wife. Phillis learned English quickly and was taught to read and write, and within sixteen months of her arrival in America she was reading passages from the Bible, Greek and Latin classics, astronomy, geography, history, and British literature.

Phillis published her first poem in the Newport, Rhode Island, Mercury on December 21, 1767. Unable to get her poems published in Boston, Phillis and the Wheatleys turned to London for a publisher, with the result that in 1773 thirty-nine of Phillis’ poems were published as Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. This collection, of which a first edition is shown, is Phillis Wheatley’s only book, and the first volume of poetry to be published by an Afro-American. The poems reflect the religious and classical background of her New England education. Over one-third consist of elegies, the remainder being on religious, classical and abstract themes.

Sample-copyright Phillis Wheatley:

“On being brought from Africa to America” by Phillis Wheatley

`Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,

Taught my benighted soul to understand

That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too:

Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.

Some view our sable race with scornful eye,

“Their colour is a diabolic die.

“Remember, Christians, Negroes, black as Cain,

May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.´

Because many white people of the time found it hard to believe that a black woman could be so intelligent as to write poetry, in 1772 Wheatley had to defend her literary ability in court. She was examined by a group of Boston luminaries including John Erving, Reverend Charles Chauncey, John Hancock, Thomas Hutchinson, the governor of Massachusetts, and his Lieutenant Governor Andrew Oliver. They concluded that she had in fact written the poems ascribed to her and signed an attestation which was published in the preface to her book Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral published in Aldgate, London in 1773. The book was published in London because publishers in Boston had refused to publish the text. Wheatley and her master’s son, Nathanial Wheatley, went to London, where Selina, Countess of Huntingdon and the Earl of Dartmouth helped with the publication. Wheatley is credited with simultaneously founding two literary genres: Black American literature and Black Women literature.

All I can say, is wow! Phillis Wheatley gave me the courage to want to write since I first heard of her in high school. Women, especially women of color, should not be intimidated in the field of writing. Look how this woman paved the way for us all, even for those who are not African American women. Her struggles attest to the struggles of all in this writing game!


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