My Name is Phillis Wheatley

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Age of Revolutions

My Name is Phillis Wheatley: A Story of Slavery and Freedom
Author: Cooper, Afua
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Time Period: Age of Revolutions
Time Frame: 1753-1784
Geographic Area: North America
Country: United States
Topics: Phillis Wheatley, Slavery, Poets and Writers
Genre: Non Fiction, Biography
Reading Age: Middle Grade
Format: Chapter Book
Published: 2021

American History > Age of Revolutions > African American History

The remarkable story of the young slave Phillis Wheatley, America's first black poet.

Part historical fiction and part informational biography, this novel about the poet's life and times is told in the first person and captures both the struggles and achievements of Wheatley's remarkable life. Starting in Africa before she is captured by slave traders, the book recounts Penda Wane's memories of her family and her early education as a griot, a traditional role passed down in her family. The story moves quickly as she describes the deplorable conditions aboard the slave ship and then being sold to the Wheatley family on the docks of Boston, but the pacing slows noticeably in the second half of the book. The Wheatleys' experiment to see if a slave can be educated begins Phillis's other life, in which she grows to become a well-known poet, both in the colonies and in England. The mounting tensions of the American Revolution and the colonists' desire for freedom provide a backdrop that mirrors Phillis's own yearning for freedom and identity throughout her life. The writing is generally strong and engaging, drawing readers immediately into Wheatley's agonies of being forcibly taken from her home as a child, but the voice is of an adult remembering her youth, and not that of a child telling her story. Pair this book with Kathryn Lasky's A Voice of Her Own (Candlewick, 2003) or Maryann Weidt's Revolutionary Poet (Carolrhoda, 1997) to give a complete picture of this unique individual.—Jody Kopple, Shady Hill School, Cambridge, MA END

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