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The Age of Phillis by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers

Wed, 02/17/2021 - 1:03pm by howarde

 

The Age of Phillis Book CoverPhillis Wheatley is the first known African-American woman to have published a book, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, in 1773. Captured in West Africa as a child, she was sold into slavery around the age of seven and purchased by the white Wheatley family of New England, who decided to give her an education and free her when she became an adult.

The documentation we have about Wheatley that does not depend on the perspectives of white people is scant. Jeffers’ poems re-imagine the inner life of a girl and then young woman ripped from her family, forced into a traumatic ocean crossing, and brought up amongst people who cared for her, yet owned her; who encouraged her intellect but wanted to erase her culture and heritage. 

Jeffers’ lengthy essay at the end of the book examines the narratives that we have been given about Phillis Wheatley and the ways in which historical archives may or may not bear them out. It took Jeffers a decade of archival research to write The Age of Phillis, and the depth of her love for Wheatley and her commitment to telling Wheatley’s whole story is evident on every page.

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