Brought to Boston on a slave ship and sold to the Wheatley family in 1761, the young girl given the name Francis Wheatley was an astonishing person by all accounts. The Wheatleys provided her with an education unusual for any woman of the time, let alone a slave. After studying classic literature, Latin, and the Bible, Francis Wheatley published her first poem to much acclaim. Influenced by poets like Homer, Milton, Virgil, and Horace, Wheatley rarely wrote about her own life and wrote seemingly conflicting poems on the topic of slavery. In one poem she wrote a stunning passage about the cruelty of the practice and her love of freedom, and in another some critics suggest she praises it for bringing her to Christianity. This collection includes not only her collected poems but also works by her contemporary African-American poets like Lucy Terry and Francis Williams, and also Wheatley’s letters, offering insight into this extraordinary woman.
Reading room discussion: Many critics argue that Wheatley’s poetry is, counter to common readings, subtly subversive – how do you think she used the structure and language of her poems to reflect her social resistance?