Printed Page Bookshop
July 2023

Who was Phillis Wheatley?
Phillis Wheatley was a literary prodigy who had been taken from Africa in childhood in the 1770s.  She was sold in Boston in 1761.  We remember her today as the first person of African descent to publish a book in the English language and the first black transatlantic celebrity.
Her 1773 book of "Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral," noted that she was "...Negro servant to Mr. John Wheatley, of Boston."  Her name registers her enslaved status:  She took her surname from the name of her new owner, who gave her as a first name that of the slave ship, Phillis, that had brought her from Africa to Massachusetts.  Apparently, Susannah Wheatley "wished to obtain a young negress" as "a faithful domestic."  She chose Phillis from among the available stock because of "the humble and modest demeanor and interesting features of the little stranger."
As an enslaved person in New England, Phillis's life was quite different from those taken to the South for plantation work.  The word "servant" was a euphemism for an owned person, but it did register a slightly more favored position in the household.  The Wheatleys treated their child servant as a kind of pet project, teaching her to read and write and using her to display their own evangelical Christian commitments within the affluent Boston community. Phillis clearly responded with quick intelligence to these opportunities, learning Latin, attending sermons, and writing poetry, at first for the family's network of acquaintances.    
In 1772, she was summoned to a panel of Boston citizens who examined her on whether she was the true author of a manuscript collection of 28 poems that Susannah Wheatley was eager to see published.  The trial was about more than authorship; confirming Phillis as the poems' creator "would demonstrate that Africans were human beings and should be liberated from slavery....Essentially, she was auditioning for the humanity of the entire African people," according to historian Henry Louis Gates Jr.  She passed the test. Her poems were published. 
The poems are Romantic and often express orthodox evangelical spirituality.  This probably explained their acceptability in her own time, but they brought criticism latter when she was accused of "Uncle Tom" syndrome.
Phillis became a celebrity in England, but although her celebrity was intense, it was brief.  She gained her freedom, married a poor man, worked in domestic service, and died, aged just 31, in poverty and obscurity.  
The first edition of her book carries a frontispiece engraved portrait of a dark-skinned woman sitting at a table with a book and an inkwell writing with a quill pen (above).  The portrait is the basis for a powerful statue by Meredith Bergmann in Boston (shown below.)  
Source:  Portable Magic by Emma Smith.

This Month's Puzzler
On July 15, 1904, this man died of tuberculosis at age 44 in Badenweiler,
Germany. One of the great figures in Russian literature, he is best known
as the author of The Seagull, Uncle Vanya, and The Cherry Orchard, but he
was also a master of the modern short story. He was born in poverty, but
went on to become a physician, practicing medicine during the day and
writing at night. In an 1892 letter to a friend, he wrote:

"The wealthy man is not he who has money,
but he who has the means to live in the luxurious state of early spring."

Who is this man?   Answer below.

Printed Page congratulates Taylor C. Kirkpatrick Prize winners
We were proud to be involved again this year in judging the entries for the Taylor C. Kirkpatrick prize for young book collectors -- and delighted that both the winner and runner-up heard about the prize from Printed Page.  Winner Angie Neslin won the $1,000 first prize for her collection of Latin American literature, while runner-up James Rickards was recognized for his collection of adventure novels from the machine age.  The winners were recognized at a reception in June.  
The prize, now in its fourth year, was established by our friend and fellow bibliophile, Denverite Taylor Kirkpatrick.

Now hail this!  Our open house has been rescheduled --
It's Thursday, July 13 -- and you should come!
A nasty hail storm caused us to cancel our June open house, so we're hoping for better weather this month.  Please join us for an after-hours soiree Thursday, July 13 from 5:30 to 8.  The food and drinks are free, and all books are 10% off.  Let us know if you can attend by dropping us a note at

Puzzler answer

Anton Chekov. If you like our Puzzler, find more on our Facebook page.  
Thanks to Dr. Mardy Grothe for the use of his puzzler.  Visit him at

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