"Complete Writings" brings together a rich collection of the work of Phillis Wheatley (c. 1753-1784). The book has been edited by Vincent Carretta, who also provides an introduction and notes. Wheatley, a Black African-born woman, was taken from her homeland as a child and sold into slavery in the United States. Her owners provided her with an excellent education, and she became a poet: indeed, a foremother of African-American poetry.
This volume contains Wheatley's poems, including the contents of her historic collection "Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral" (1773).The book also contains more than 20 of her letters, thus allowing readers to appreciate her prose style. As appendixes, the book also contains the writings of three other pioneering New World poets of African heritage: Lucy Terry Prince (c. 1730-1821), Jupiter Hammon (1711-c. 1806), and Francis Williams (c. 1700-c. 1770). Seeing the works of these Black poets helps one to read Wheatley's work in a larger context.
Yes, one could say that some of Wheatley's work is derivative and repetitive. But the best of her poetry is truly extraordinary: technically impressive, moving, and thought-provoking. Much of her work is animated by her fervent evangelical Christian beliefs. But particularly significant are those poems that articulate an African or African-American consciousness. The most noteworthy of her poems invite careful re-reading. And the collection of her letters creates a fascinating portrait of a young African-American woman striving to create a career for herself as a literary artist in the 18th century. This book is essential for those with a serious interest in U.S. history and literature, as well as for those with an interest in African Diaspora studies.