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Phillis Wheatley
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Phillis Wheatley's Poems on various subjects, religious and moral , which came out in London in 1773, was the first book ever published by a black woman.

Wheatley was not the poet's real name but that of her owner, who bought her in 1761 “for a trifle” from a Boston slave-market when the girl was about seven. Her master and mistress taught her to read when they found her trying to make letters on the wall. She went on to learn Latin, and started to write poetry at about thirteen. She quickly became known as a child prodigy, and was visited by many “individuals of high standing” in Boston .

Her book of poems was published when she was 19, and the same year she was brought to London , where she was lionized. The poems attracted a long list of subscribers – that is, people prepared to help pay for the publication of a book by ordering a copy in advance. The black writer Ignatius Sancho admired her work, but attacked her owners and subscribers for allowing her to remain in slavery: “These great folks all know and perhaps admired – nay, praised Genius in bondage – and then …passed by – not one good Samaritan amongst them.”

Phillis Wheatley was finally freed on her mistress's death in 1774, but was left with no money and seems to have made a living selling copies of her book from door to door. She married a free black man, John Peters, in 1778, but the couple continued to be in debt and two of their three children died. Phillis Wheatley died in poverty in 1784.




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