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“TWAS NOT LONG SINCE I LEFT MY NATIVE SHORE”: PHYLLIS WHEATLEY’S CELESTIAL CARTOGRAPHY
February 17, 2022 @ 4:30 pm–5:30 pm
William Decker, Oklahoma State University
Against the enduring mystery of Phillis Wheatley’s African origin, this talk will address how the poet established bearings in a world far from her natal landscape. A Christian convert whose poems celebrate a spiritual journey from darkness to light, from perdition to salvation, she nevertheless found ways to evoke the Middle Passage and to build a testimony against the slave trade that set her on what she dutifully represents as a redemptive path. The poems develop a cartography that unites her Old World and her New World as well as the world that her faith assures her awaits at the end of her long journey. The final, celestial “transport” is a recurring theme in her poetry, an ascent that she admonishes her white readership that they, too, must prepare to make.