BOOK: Carretta on Phillis Wheatley

Wheatley Cover

Vincent Carretta. Phillis Wheatley: Biography of a Genius in Bondage. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2011.

via University of Georgia Press:

“With Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (1773), Phillis Wheatley (1753?–1784) became the first English-speaking person of African descent to publish a book and only the second woman—of any race or background— to do so in America. Written in Boston while she was just a teenager, and when she was still a slave, Wheatley’s work was an international sensation. In Phillis Wheatley, Vincent Carretta offers the first full-length biography of a figure whose origins and later life have remained shadowy despite her iconic status.

A scholar with extensive knowledge of transatlantic literature and history, Carretta uncovers new details about Wheatley’s origins, her upbringing, and how she gained freedom. Carretta solves the mystery of John Peters, correcting the record of when he and Wheatley married and revealing what became of him after her death. Assessing Wheatley’s entire body of work, Carretta discusses the likely role she played in the production, market­ing, and distribution of her writing. Wheatley developed a remarkable transatlantic network that transcended racial, class, political, religious, and geographical boundaries. Carretta reconstructs that network and sheds new light on her religious and political identities. In the course of his research he discovered the earliest poem attributable to Wheatley and has included it and other unpublished poems in the biography.

Carretta relocates Wheatley from the margins to the center of her eighteenth-century transatlantic world, revealing the fascinating life of a woman who rose from the indignity of enslavement to earn wide recognition, only to die in obscurity a few years later.”

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Debating Olaudah Equiano

Olaudah Equiano Vincent Carretta and Paul Lovejoy debate Olaudah Equiano’s origins in the December 2006 and April 2007 issues of Slavery & Abolition: A Journal of Slave and Post Slave Studies.

The debate surrounds Vincent Carretta’s argument that there is convincing evidence that Equiano was not an African, as he claimed, but was born as a slave in South Carolina. In his biography of Equiano, Equiano, the African: Biography of a Self Made Man (University of Georgia Press, 2005), Carretta claims that Equiano fashioned an identity for himself as “the African,” partly as a rhetorical strategy to sway readers towards abolitionism.

In, “Autobiography and Memory: Gustavus Vassa, alias Olaudah Equiano, the Africa,” in the December 2006 issue of Slavery & Abolition, Paul Lovejoy disagrees:

Recent scholarship has raised doubts about whether or not abolitionist Olaudah Equiano, who was known in his own lifetime as Gustavus Vassa, was born in Africa. While baptismal and naval documents indicate that he was born in South Carolina, it is argued here that his autobiographical account is nonetheless accurate, although allowing for reflection and information that was learned later in life. Information on facial markings (ichi) and other cultural features that are recounted in Vassa’s account indicate that he had first hand experience of his Igbo homeland and that he was about the age he thought he was at the time of his forced departure from the Bight of Biafra on a slave ship in 1754. (Abstract from S&A website)

Vincent Carretta’s “Response” and Paul Lovejoy’s return, “Issues of Motivation: Vassa/Equiano and Carretta’s Critique of the Evidence” can both be found in the April 2007 issue.

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