Phillis Wheatley

What place does one of the first African American poets have in the history of American romance fiction? Darlene Clark Hine, professor of African American studies and history at Northwestern University, argues that Wheatley put words to and emotions that African American literature, romance novels, would voice again and gain.


Where did the African American literary tradition begin?

The African American literary tradition was launched by Phillis Wheatley, who was this very, very precocious slave girl purchased from a slave ship called the Phillis by this very prominent or well-to-do family in Boston named the Wheatleys, and so they named her Phillis Wheatley. She was quite adept in languages and became fluent in Latin and could read and write. Between the ages—in her early teenage years she was writing poetry and they realized her genius and promoted that and cultivated that.

And I think of some of her poems as being the first love poems within the African American tradition, because she really did yearn for her homeland and her poetry evokes the sense of loss and love and yearning and desire to belong. These themes will resonate throughout African Americans literature in poetry, in the slave narratives, in the novels, the sonnets. This is sort of the foundation, if you will, of black literature and literary expression.

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