The Age of Phillis

In 1773, a young, African American woman named Phillis Wheatley published a book of poetry that challenged Western prejudices about African and female intellectual capabilities. Based on fifteen years of archival research, The Age of Phillis, by award-winning writer Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, imagines the life and times of Wheatley: her childhood in the Gambia, West Africa, her life with her white American owners, her friendship with Obour Tanner, and her marriage to the enigmatic John Peters. Woven throughout are poems about Wheatley’s “age”―the era that encompassed political, philosophical, and religious upheaval, as well as the transatlantic slave trade. For the first time in verse, Wheatley’s relationship to black people and their individual “mercies” is foregrounded, and here we see her as not simply a racial or literary symbol, but a human being who lived and loved while making her indelible mark on history.

Winner, 2021 NAACP Image Award for Literary Work: Poetry
Finalist, 2021 PEN/Voelcker Award in Poetry
Long-List, 2020 National Book Award in Poetry
Finalist, 2020 Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Poetry
NPR’s “Best Books of 2020”
Library Journal “Best Poetry of 2020”

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“With her latest volume, award-winning poet Jeffers presents an arresting and meticulously researched collection of poems imagining the life of remarkable life and revolutionary work of Phillis Wheatley.” Karla Strand, Ms. magazine

“Jeffers delivers history with a gut punch…” Janice. N. Harrington, author of Primitive: The Art and Life of Horace H. Pippin

“…this writing enacts Phillis’s life anew, lending texture to her work and force to the presence that she left behind.” Elizabeth Winkler, The New Yorker