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Complete Writings

Complete Writings (Penguin Classics) by Phillis Wheatley, Vincent Carretta

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Book Description (From the Publisher)

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.

 

Reviews

 

4 out of 5 stars A vital foremother of African-American literature, September 23, 2001

By Michael J. Mazza (Pittsburgh, PA USA) (TOP 100 REVIEWER) (REAL NAME) (COMMUNITY FORUM 04)

 

"Complete Writings" brings together a rich collection of the work of Phillis Wheatley (c. 1753-1784). The book has been edited by Vincent Carretta, who also provides an introduction and notes. Wheatley, a Black African-born woman, was taken from her homeland as a child and sold into slavery in the United States. Her owners provided her with an excellent education, and she became a poet: indeed, a foremother of African-American poetry.

 

This volume contains Wheatley's poems, including the contents of her historic collection "Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral" (1773).The book also contains more than 20 of her letters, thus allowing readers to appreciate her prose style. As appendixes, the book also contains the writings of three other pioneering New World poets of African heritage: Lucy Terry Prince (c. 1730-1821), Jupiter Hammon (1711-c. 1806), and Francis Williams (c. 1700-c. 1770). Seeing the works of these Black poets helps one to read Wheatley's work in a larger context.

 

Yes, one could say that some of Wheatley's work is derivative and repetitive. But the best of her poetry is truly extraordinary: technically impressive, moving, and thought-provoking. Much of her work is animated by her fervent evangelical Christian beliefs. But particularly significant are those poems that articulate an African or African-American consciousness. The most noteworthy of her poems invite careful re-reading. And the collection of her letters creates a fascinating portrait of a young African-American woman striving to create a career for herself as a literary artist in the 18th century. This book is essential for those with a serious interest in U.S. history and literature, as well as for those with an interest in African Diaspora studies.


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