The Trials of Phillis Wheatley

America's First Black Poet and Her Encounters with the Founding Fathers

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By Henry Louis Gates

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In 1773, the slave Phillis Wheatley literally wrote her way to freedom. The first person of African descent to publish a book of poems in English, she was emancipated by her owners in recognition of her literary achievement. For a time, Wheatley was the most famous black woman in the West. But Thomas Jefferson, unlike his contemporaries Ben Franklin and George Washington, refused to acknowledge her gifts as a writer — a repudiation that eventually inspired generations of black writers to build an extraordinary body of literature in their efforts to prove him wrong.

In The Trials of Phillis Wheatley, Henry Louis Gates Jr. explores the pivotal roles that Wheatley and Jefferson played in shaping the black literary tradition. Writing with all the lyricism and critical skill that place him at the forefront of American letters, Gates brings to life the characters, debates, and controversy that surrounded Wheatley in her day and ours.

  • Deseret News
    “There's a wealth of history here… Gates has brought this absorbing information together in an accessible but comprehensive way.”

On Sale
Jan 12, 2010
Page Count
144 pages
Publisher
Civitas Books
ISBN-13
9780465018505

Henry Louis Gates

About the Author

Henry Louis Gates, Jr., is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University. He is the author of numerous books, including Colored People, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man, In Search of Our Roots, and the American Book Award-winning The Signifying Monkey. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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