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Phyllis Wheatley (1753-1784): The First Published African-American Poet

Phyllis Wheatley

Male abolitionists, such as Cugoano and Equiano, were not the only black people in Britain to publish books. Phyllis Wheatley was a talented poet and became the first black woman in Britain to have a book published.

Phyllis Wheatley had been born in Africa but was kidnapped and taken to the USA at just eight years old. In the USA she became well known as a poet and she visited England in 1772.

Her book of poems was published in London in 1773.  Her poems described the shock of the experience of being enlsaved and, like Equiano and Cugoano, she regularly spoke out against slavery at public meetings. In 1789, one of her poems was published by a London newspaper

I, young in life, by seeming cruel fate,
Was snach'd from AFRIC's fancy'd happy seat;
What pangs excruciating must molest,
What sorrows labour in my parents' breast?
Steel'd was that soul and by no mis'ry mov'd
That from a father seiz'd his babe belove'd;
Such-such my case; and can I then but pray
Others may never feel tyrannic sway?

Hear the extract

 

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