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Phillis Wheatley: Biography of a Genius in Bondage

3.66  ·  Rating details ·  58 ratings  ·  15 reviews
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 P ...more
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published November 1st 2011 by University of Georgia Press (first published January 1st 2011)
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Steven Walle
Jul 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
I highly recommend this book which chronicals the life of a slave girl and her relationship with her Boston owners. The book tells us of her genius and the fame she aquires in England andand her marriage to free black man John Peters.
Enjoy and Be Blessed.
Mike E.
May 14, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: biography
I am fascinated and impressed with Wheatley--joyful Christian woman, gifted poet, and freed slave. This is the definitive biography on her, as of 2013. If you want to know Wheatley, this biography published by the University of Georgia press does not have the expected weight of an academic tome. With scant details of her life available, Carretta is to be applauded for taking on the task of portraying, in his words, this "Genius in Bondage." Critics challenge both her poetic "genius" and her "bon ...more
Nathan Albright
Aug 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: challenge-2020
This book touts itself as the only full-length biography of Phillis Wheatley, noted and celebrated (as well as frequently criticized) American colonial poetess. That may have been true at the time this book was written but it is certainly not the case now. Phillis Wheatley, during her life and ever afterwards, has been a complex figure that has served as a standardbearer, for good and ill, for her identity as a slave, as a young black woman, as a devout and serious Christian, as a woman whose pr ...more
Justin Goodman
Jul 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
While detail-oriented, not in a way that denies a holistic view. In fact the details are reinforced by and reinforce the wide lens Carretta uses to try to grasp at Wheatley. Very engaging because of this society-in-the-individual approach. Carretta envisions her as secretly ironic and heading towards an abolitionist mindset, which, while I think can be read into her from what Carretta provides, isn't really thoroughly argued more than stated imo.

On a content level it's a fascinating and tragic s
Apr 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Accessible for the lay reader who doesn't know a lot about Wheatley. Makes a good case for calling her the Poet Laureate of the American Revolution, for her talent, her recognition by people in her own time, and of course, her status as an enslaved American, which helps focus on the contradictions inherent in the project of freedom in America since the revolution. ...more
Laura Thigpen
Feb 02, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Excellent biography! A beautiful wedding of literary textual criticism and historical investigation. The life, testimony, and works of Phillis Wheatley is a gift to all of us who come after her.
Aug 10, 2018 rated it did not like it
This book was highly recommended but although wonderfully researched, I failed to really grasp the story of Wheatley. The book veered off in so many areas that it was difficult to follow.
Jan 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars

I was recently tasked with creating a short presentation on the life of significance of Phillis Wheatley, and it didn't take too long to realize that there is very little modern day scholars can say with absolute certainty about her life and work, let alone her private attitudes and opinions. This book, however, is one of the clearest and most thoroughly researched works I've come across that deal with Wheatley's life and work - in fact, it occasionally veers on the point of being overl
Sam Poole
May 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
Excellent comprehensive biography of the first published English speaking published black poet. Contrary to some assumptions, Wheatley was subtly subversive of racist and sexist boundaries of the 18th century while becoming a highly educated upper middle class free woman. Her story is fascinating and her sense of self both conflicted and confident. She does not get the credit she deserves for expanding the strict lines of literature and art in America. She used Christianity and conventional, hig ...more
Colette Byfield
Nov 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This book provides the most clear picture (to date) of Phillis Wheatley's professional and personal life. Sourcing a number of primary documents, such as letters and contemporaneous newspaper accounts, Carretta provides a long overdue chronicle of a tragically incomplete life and career.

For too long, Wheatley's true genius has been shamefully overlooked by too many other historians. Her poetic contributions and apparent genius provided the creative writing foundation from which so many other Ame
Dec 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
Great book that includes a lot of exhaustive research about Phillis Wheatley. Carretta really frames the book as, and gives evidence to, Phillis being an intelligent person and shrewd negotiator, rather than just a talented poet who was kept down by her station in life. There are many primary sources used - letters, diary entries - that really give you a better sense of who Phillis was outside of her poetry.
Apr 18, 2012 rated it liked it
This is an academic biography-extremely well researched--about a remarkable person, but it is a bit lacking in flair. I'd recommend Gates's short book on Wheatley (The Trials of Phillis Wheatley) instead, even if it's not as fact-oriented. ...more
Aug 18, 2015 rated it did not like it
Heavily researched, but spent way too much time repeating known stories. I was hoping to learn more about the latter years of Wheatley.
Erica Turner
Apr 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I have found a new poet to love!
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Vincent Carretta is emertius professor of English at the University of Maryland, College Park.

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