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The Age of Phillis

Poems imagine the life and times of Phillis Wheatley Peters

NAACP Image Award Winner for Outstanding Literary Work for Poetry
2020 National Book Award for Poetry, Longlist
2020 LA Times Book Award Finalist

In 1773, a young, African American woman named Phillis Wheatley Peters 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.

mothering #1
Yaay, Someplace in the Gambia, c. 1753

the after-birth
is delivered
the mother stops
holding her breath
the mid-wife gives
what came before
her just-washed pain
her insanity pain
an undeserved pain
a God-given pain
oh oh oh pain
drum-talking pain
witnessing pain
a mother offers
You this gift
prays You find
it acceptable
her living pain
her creature pain
her pretty-little-baby

About the Author

HONORÉE FANONNE JEFFERS is a poet whose work examines culture, religion, history, and family. She is the author of four other books of poetry, including The Glory Gets, and the recipient of the 2018 Harper Lee Award for Literary Distinction, as well as fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Witter Bynner Foundation through the Library of Congress. An elected member of the American Antiquarian Society, she teaches creative writing at the University of Oklahoma where she is a professor of English.


"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

"'Morning shards, and a mother wondered/ if her daughter forgot her real name' writes Honorée Fanonne Jeffers in the poem 'An Issue of Mercy #1' in her latest collection. In this vast, imaginative opus on Black female genius, Fanonne Jeffers excavates the figure of Phillis Wheatley Peters, the first Black woman to publish a book in America. Here, too, is a virtuosic deconstruction of the figure of Phillis, stolen from her home in the Gambia at age 7 and enslaved in America during the 18th century – and what she means as a representation of this time in our history that's still influencing American social institutions and life today in relation to power, agency and the histories that are told."—Hope Wabuke


"There are few historically consequential poets whose lives are rooted so deeply beneath the bloody red sea and the bloody red, white, and blue shores of America as that of Phillis Wheatley. The excavation and the telling of her complicated tremendous life, that has everything to do with how we have come to know each other, eye to eye, in this 21st century, would take a lifetime of research and the courageous delicate use of every light-filled exacting tool a poet could hold in her hand. The work of a lifetime is exactly what Honoree Jeffers, poet extraordinaire of her time, has accomplished in The Age of Phillis, a poetry book that gentles to the page the life and times of Phillis Wheatley, America's first published Black woman poet. It is a book teeming and timeless with the long-overlooked, the sparkling unknown, the ancillary biographical, the nuanced historical, the mighty minutiae, and the critical antidotal. We need this Genius Child reader in our open hands right now."—Nikky Finney, author of Head Off & Split: Poems

"With passion and epic precision, Honorée Jeffers renders Phillis Wheatley's unprecedented predicament and genius in rich and kaleidoscopic fashion. It was Phillis Wheatley's task, as both poet and American slave, to limn the dream of freedom and to move toward it with her whole being. While remaining alive to the racial labyrinths and justice-cries of the present, Jeffers reminds us that our enslaved ancestors continue to speak to us and through us. This masterful book is a fountain of spirited dedication and lucid reclamation, and contemporary American poetry is richer for it."—Cyrus Cassells, author of The Gospel according to Wild Indigo

"Jeffers delivers history with a gut-punch in her sweeping overview of the late eighteenth century, the Atlantic slave trade, and the life of Phillis Wheatley. Empathy, deep research, and a keen intellect expand every poem. Diamond-faceted, Jeffers' poems go beyond mere facts and drive the imagination into searing truth."—Janice. N. Harrington, author of Primitive: The Art and Life of Horace H. Pippin

"We have worried about Phillis for so long. Pitied her. Puzzled over her. But only Honorée Jeffers had the wisdom, patience, and power to go get her, to put the girl-poet-woman between her knees, comb out the knots, and anoint her head with pain and glory. The Age of Phillis is the finest work on early African-American life I've ever read. More than that, it is a bold rewriting and righting of American history as a story of little girls stolen and grown women determined to gather them in to homes made of out of words, love, loss, beauty, courage, and cunning. This is a book to be taught, studied, held, absorbed, and treasured."—Joanna Brooks, PhD, award-winning author or editor of ten books on American race, religion, and colonialism, including American Lazarus and Why We Left
Wesleyan University Press
Wesleyan Poetry Series

9780819579492 : the-age-of-phillis-jeffers
232 Pages
$26.95 USD
9780819579515 : the-age-of-phillis-jeffers
Electronic book text
232 Pages
$21.99 USD
9780819579508 : the-age-of-phillis-jeffers
Paperback / softback
232 Pages
$16.95 USD

Other Titles by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers

The Glory Gets

Honorée Fanonne Jeffers
May 2015 - Wesleyan University Press
$24.95 USD - Hardback
$19.99 USD - Electronic book text

Outlandish Blues

Honorée Fanonne Jeffers
May 2011 - Wesleyan University Press
$15.95 USD - Paperback / softback
$12.99 USD - Electronic book text

Other Titles from Wesleyan Poetry Series

Between the Night and Its Music

A. B. Spellman. Edited with an introduction by Lauri Scheyer.
Oct 2024 - Wesleyan University Press
$30.00 USD - Hardback

Dybbuk Americana

Joshua Gottlieb-Miller
Sep 2024 - Wesleyan University Press
$27.00 USD - Hardback
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Soon and Wholly

Idra Novey. With images from Erica Baum.
Sep 2024 - Wesleyan University Press
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Winter Fruit

Dale B.J. Randall
Dec 2025 - University Press of Kentucky
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Feeding the Ghosts

Rahul Mehta
Mar 2024 - University Press of Kentucky
$44.95 USD - Hardback
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Irregular Heartbeats at the Park West

Russell Brakefield
Jan 2024 - Wayne State University Press
$17.99 USD - Paperback / softback

Other Titles in Poetry by individual poets

By Right of Memory

Geoffrey Hosking
Jul 2024 - Central European University Press
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Black Creole Chronicles

Mona Lisa Saloy
May 2023 - University of New Orleans Press
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Buffalo Dance, expanded edition

Frank X Walker
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