The Young Writer Who Bought Her Freedom Via Poetry

Pages from a book of Phillis Wheatley poems
Shonda Buchanan
July 29, 2020

“Salaam aleekum, na nga def?” her mother asked. “How are you?” 

“Damaa réer, Namp,” she replied in Wolof.I’m lost, Mother.” But she did not cry.

The darkness of the slave ship, her aching stomach, and her fear enveloped her, yet she did not cry. Even at the auction block, she did not cry. Instead she thought of her mother’s strength.

Named Phillis, she toiled for the Wheatley family - yet learned to read and write in English, Greek and Latin. Her love of poetry manifested, and writing gave her a sense of freedom.

Soon, the world noticed her genius.

A prodigy, she published her first poem at only 12! She even traveled to England to publish her first book at only 20. 

Her work was celebrated in America and Europe - but her master refused to free her.

Two years after her book was published, and after both Wheatleys died, she was finally free - but poetic genius in a racist country did not mean she’d achieve material success. Wheatley continued writing until she died, impoverished. 

Yet her life’s work lives on, reminding us that despite discrimination, we should never doubt that we are brilliant, talented, and can accomplish our dreams.

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