Phillis Wheatley Peters

Biography of a Genius in Bondage

Title Details

Pages: 328

Illustrations: 34 b&w images

Trim size: 6.000in x 9.000in



Pub Date: 04/15/2023

ISBN: 9-780-8203-6332-5

List Price: $26.95

Subsidies and Partnerships

Published with the generous support of Sarah Mills Hodge Fund

Phillis Wheatley Peters

Biography of a Genius in Bondage

A new and revised biography of one of early America’s most heroic literary and public figures

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  • Description
  • Reviews

This new edition of Phillis Wheatley Peters is the first full-length biography of the poet whose remarkable odyssey took her from being a child enslaved in Africa to becoming an international celebrity by the time she was in her early twenties, only to fall into relative obscurity when she died in 1784 at barely the age of thirty.

Introduced to Benjamin Franklin in London, praised by her correspondent George Washington, and criticized by Thomas Jefferson, Phillis Wheatley (later Peters) laid claim to being the virtual poet laureate during the American Revolution as well as in the new United States. She overcame contemporaneous restraints of age, gender, race, and social status to assert her position as the unofficial spokesperson and critical observer of the nation that claimed to be founded on the principle that all men are created equal.

Grounded in extensive primary research, Phillis Wheatley Peters recovers her life and times and reclaims the recognition and status she deserves as a heroic literary and political figure in an age of heroes. She is indisputably the founder of African American literature. Contemporary African American authors, including Nikki Giovanni, Amanda Gorman, Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, June Jordan, and Alice Walker, celebrate Phillis Wheatley Peters’s transcendent literary achievement and influence.

This new edition incorporates significant discoveries that Vincent Carretta and others have made since the book’s initial publication about Wheatley’s education, affiliations, activities, publications, marriage, husband, maternity, later years, and the posthumous survival of the manuscript of her proposed second volume of writings. Moreover, this new edition gives Carretta the opportunity to reconsider some previously available evidence.

Phillis Wheatley Peters is one of the very few women writers to have invented a literary tradition. Lavishly praised and viciously maligned, the enormity of Wheatley Peters’s artistic achievements has long been obscured by the political uses to which she and her poetry have been put. Even more obscured have been the details of Wheatley Peters’s life. At last, Vincent Carretta has written a biography of this great writer as complex and as nuanced as Wheatley Peters and her work themselves. This book resurrects the 'mother' of the African American literary tradition, vividly, scrupulously, and without sentimentality, as no other biography of her has done.

—Henry Louis Gates Jr., Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University, author of The Trials of Phillis Wheatley: America's First Black Poet and Her Encounters with

This is a satisfying study of the ‘elusive’ Wheatley Peters, fleshed out with succinct, discerning readings of the body of her work. . . . Especially noteworthy is the book’s attentiveness to Peters’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

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

—Library Journal

Carretta's well-researched narrative succeeds in bringing the 'genius in bondage' out of history's shadows. . . . Wheatley Peters emerges from the pages of Carretta's biography as a resourceful poet who played an active role in the production and distribution of her own writing on both sides of the Atlantic.

—Times Literary Supplement

About the Author/Editor

VINCENT CARRETTA is professor emeritus 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 Peters, Ignatius Sancho, and Ottobah Cugoano. His books include Phillis Wheatley Peters: Biography of a Genius in Bondage; Equiano, the African: Biography of a Self-Made Man; and The Life and Letters of Philip Quaque, the First African Anglican Missionary, coedited with Ty M. Reese (all Georgia). He lives in Springfield, Virginia.