Name: Phyllis Wheatley
Basics: She was a slave and yet an intellectual capable of going blow for blow with any white contemporary. Born in Senegal, she was brought to Boston at the age of 8 and sold to John Wheatley. The Wheatleys educated her and she soon began to write poetry. She was the first African-American to publish a book of poetry in the United States and the third woman to do so. Unfortunately, even her extraordinary talents weren’t enough to fight off the political realities she lived in and ultimately she was never able to find a publisher interested in a second volume of books.
Why I Chose Her: Perseverance. Her tale is certainly a testimony to that. What slave would have aspired to learn Greek and Latin? What slave would have thought to converse intellectually with white men through their poetry? If you really examine her work, you can see she took some perilous risks in terms of topics. Her story is one about overcoming the odds, even if just for a brief moment. Everything in the world said Phyllis Wheatley should have never published a book of poetry yet she did. Our circumstances today are rough, but nothing like hers. She did something wonderful with everything stacked against her. We have no choice but to do better.