Phillis Wheatley
Biography of a Genius in Bondage

Vincent Carretta

Revealing a founding figure of American and African American literature

Reviews

“This is a satisfying study of the ‘elusive’ Wheatley, fleshed out with succinct, discerning readings of the body of her work. . . . Especially noteworthy is the book’s attentiveness to Wheatley’s involvement in the production and promotion of her book, the contemporary responses to her work, and an unprecedented account of her marriage to the debt-ridden John Peters, whose death forced her into domestic service.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Surprisingly the first full biography . . . Carretta presents his significant research in this comprehensive study of Wheatley. He uncovered her previously unknown earliest writings in the personal papers of a contemporary. Using court documents about her husband, John Peters, Carretta found new information about Wheatley’s postemancipation life in Boston and London, years about which scholars still know very little. He also provides fresh analysis of Wheatley’s poetry and gives the reader a glimpse into the lives of both free and enslaved blacks in Colonial New England.”
Library Journal


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Description

With Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (1773), Phillis Wheatley (1753?–1784) became the first English-speaking person of African descent to publish a book and only the second woman—of any race or background— to do so in America. Written in Boston while she was just a teenager, and when she was still a slave, Wheatley’s work was an international sensation. In Phillis Wheatley, Vincent Carretta offers the first full-length biography of a figure whose origins and later life have remained shadowy despite her iconic status.

A scholar with extensive knowledge of transatlantic literature and history, Carretta uncovers new details about Wheatley’s origins, her upbringing, and how she gained freedom. Carretta solves the mystery of John Peters, correcting the record of when he and Wheatley married and revealing what became of him after her death. Assessing Wheatley’s entire body of work, Carretta discusses the likely role she played in the production, market­ing, and distribution of her writing. Wheatley developed a remarkable transatlantic network that transcended racial, class, political, religious, and geographical boundaries. Carretta reconstructs that network and sheds new light on her religious and political identities. In the course of his research he discovered the earliest poem attributable to Wheatley and has included it and other unpublished poems in the biography.

Carretta relocates Wheatley from the margins to the center of her eighteenth-century transatlantic world, revealing the fascinating life of a woman who rose from the indignity of enslavement to earn wide recognition, only to die in obscurity a few years later.

A Sarah Mills Hodge Fund Publication

Page count: 312 pp.
34 b&w photos, 1 map
Trim size: 6 x 9

 

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Cloth
List price:
978-0-8203-3338-0
11/1/2011
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Paper
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978-0-8203-4664-9
2/15/2014
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Vincent Carretta is a professor of English at the University of Maryland. He is the author or editor of more than ten books, including scholarly editions of the writings of Olaudah Equiano, Phillis Wheatley, Ignatius Sancho, and Ottobah Cugoano. His most recent books are Equiano, the African: Biography of a Self-Made Man, winner of the Annibel Jenkins Prize, and The Life and Letters of Philip Quaque, the First African Anglican Missionary, coedited with Ty M. Reese (both Georgia).