In 1773, the slave Phillis Wheatley literally wrote her way to freedom. The first person of African descent to publish a book of poems in English, she was emancipated by her owners in recognition of her literary achievement. For a time, Wheatley was the most famous black woman in the West. But Thomas Jefferson, unlike his contemporaries Ben Franklin and George Washington, refused to acknowledge her gifts as a writera repudiation that eventually inspired generations of black writers to build an extraordinary body of literature in their efforts to prove him wrong.
In The Trials of Phillis Wheatley, Henry Louis Gates Jr. explores the pivotal roles that Wheatley and Jefferson played in shaping the black literary tradition. Writing with all the lyricism and critical skill that place him at the forefront of American letters, Gates brings to life the characters, debates, and controversy that surrounded Wheatley in her day and ours.
|Edition description:||First Trade Paper Edition|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 7.40(h) x 0.40(d)|
About the Author
Henry Louis Gates Jr. is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University. His books include Colored People, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man, and In Search of Our Roots. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
White America assumed slaves were nothing more than an inferior species; animals, jungle bunnies, that could never be taught to read or write, let alone live a civilized life. When reading and writing was accomplished, the credibility of Slaves' works was put to test, as Whites claimed the creative aspect of the writings was stolen from the Whites, and that Blacks truly had no true understanding behind the words they may write. All the while, slaves were always under public scrutiny. People most always call to mind Frederick Douglass, who was given an inch of knowledge by learning the alphabet, and allegedly taught himself how to read and write. Most always people tend to forget Phillis Wheatley. And, more importantly, people only read one or two or her poems in an African American Literature course, then never follow it with any worthwhile intelligent discussion. Henry Louis Gates, Jr.'s 'The Trials of Phillis Wheatley' express this matter-of-fact, while delving into the corrupt, and not-so-hidden agenda of political figures, allowing the reader to, perhaps take this newfound knowledge and apply it to our present country at-large. This nonfiction work tells us how, Wheatley, a slave, was raised to read and write by her mistress and master, and was among their supposed favorites-if ever a thing existed. Gates allows the reader to understand how an African American is always seen (by Blacks and Whites) as either 'too black' or 'too white' with their abilities, or lack thereof. Gates offers brief explications of Wheatley's somewhat controversial work, primarily focusing on how Wheatley described her skin like 'Cain's' and a 'diabolical dye'-a poem which became an outlet of Black criticism from then until now, opening a door for modern day Black folks to call Wheatley nothing more than 'Uncle Tom's Mother' or Aunt Jemima. Very informative prose, yet disappointingly and to some extent unexpectedly, Gates' writing is somewhat sophomoric in its essay-esque approach, scattered thoughts, and poor analogies (i.e., referring to Wheatley as a Toni Morrison of her time, then referring to Wheatley as the Oprah of her time). Though educational, it easily could have been written as a high school/college term paper, instead of this Harvard professor. However, this gives the layman writer hope, to rummage through his old college term papers and expand on old philosophies, only to result in the same quality of work as Gates.