Phillis Wheatley: Biography of a Genius in Bondage

Vincent Carretta, Author
Vincent Carretta. Univ. of Georgia, $29.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-8203-3338-0
Paperback - 312 pages - 978-0-8203-4664-9
Open Ebook - 318 pages - 978-0-8203-4704-2
Open Ebook - 318 pages - 978-1-306-42601-5
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In this first full-length biography of “the mother of African-American literature,” Carretta (Equiano, the African) offers a thoroughly readable, fully scholarly life of Wheatley (c. 1761–1784). Precise data about the roughly seven-year-old child, born in Senegal and transported into slavery in Massachusetts, who became a “pioneer of American and African literature,” is hard to come by, but this is a satisfying study of the “elusive” Wheatley, fleshed out with succinct, discerning readings of the body of her work, from a recently discovered poem composed when she was about 11 to her last known work. Carretta unveils the truly remarkable figure Wheatley was, as a highly literate, woman in colonial America, and, through a detailed assessment of her revisions and her correspondence, as the highly conscious poet she became. 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. That some of Carretta’s analyses and conjectures may spark debate only adds to the liveliness of his worthy, welcome biography. (Nov.)
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