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Phillis Wheatley: Biography of a Genius in…

Phillis Wheatley: Biography of a Genius in Bondage (Sarah Mills Hodge Fund… (2011)

by Vincent Carretta

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Since the author was a long-term research fellow at MHS while I worked there, and I am acknowledged in the book, I won't call this a review, but simply a recommendation. Vincent Carretta's Phillis Wheatley: Biography of a Genius in Bondage (University of Georgia Press, 2011) is a thorough, cautious, and absolutely indispensable new study of Wheatley's life and works, and you should read it.

By carefully re-examining the known documentary record and uncovering more than a few entirely new sources during the course of his research, Carretta has written the most complete biography of Wheatley to date, one I think is unlikely to be surpassed (barring the emergence of some significant new evidence in the future, anyway). He successfully "busts" many of the myths that have sprung up around Wheatley, and ably locates her within the dual contexts of the overall transatlantic literary culture of the 1770s and the nascent trend of publications by people of African descent in the Anglo-American world.

Carretta's explication of Wheatley's connections in and around Boston during the 1760s and early 1770s makes for fascinating reading, as does his chapter on her trip to London in 1773. He carefully mines her correspondence and writings for details of who she met, the sights she saw, the books she purchased, and how the trip affected not only the publication of her Poems but also her own legal status.

While much of Wheatley's post-manumission life remains nebulous given the lack of available documents, Carretta has done a great service by recreating those years to the extent possible. His research has revealed a great deal more about Phillis' husband John Peters than was previously known, and his discussion of Wheatley's married life (and what that meant for her public career) is most enlightening.

The useful notes and full bibliography (which together cover more than fifty pages) are vital parts of the book, and I'm glad (though not surprised, in this case) to see such complete documentation of the research process.

Highly recommended.

http://philobiblos.blogspot.com/2011/11/book-recommendation-phillis-wheatley.htm... ( )
1 vote JBD1 | Nov 30, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0820333387, Hardcover)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:19 -0400)

Reveals the fascinating life of Phillis Wheatley, the first English-speaking person of African descent to publish a book, and only the second woman to do so in America, and also to do so while she was a slave and a teenager.

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