Tag Archive for Honoree Jeffers

Juneteenth, celebrating freedom

On June 19, 1865, the Emancipation Proclamation was read by General Gordon to Texas, the last state to free enslaved people. Known as Juneteenth, this day marks the official end of slavery in the United States.

President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation almost two years before Juneteenth on January 1, 1863. However, at the time it was issued, the proclamation only applied to places under Confederate control, excluding other areas such as border states and rebel areas under Union control. Two years later, all enslaved people were officially freed.

Texas was the first state to make Juneteenth an official holiday in 1979. Today, it is recognized by many states and celebrated through parades, barbecues, and other outdoor activities.

On this Juneteenth, Wesleyan University Press celebrates old and new publications by black authors exploring the legacy of the black experience in America through poetry, essays, and historical texts. Make sure to check out the below titles to support Black authors on this holiday.

#theageofphillis: Honorée Fanonne Jeffers talks latest book of poetry on Twitter

On April 16, Honorée Fanonne Jeffers answered questions, on Twitter, about her new book, The Age of Phillis. Using the hashtag, #theageofphillis, readers tuned in to ask Jeffers about her process, inspiration, and relationship to documentary poetry. Below is a recap of the informative, heartfelt, sometimes humorous Q&A with Honorée.

“Jeffers pulls from historical archives to create more than 150 poems for glimpses of untold eighteenth century history from Wheatley a literary foremother, pioneer of ekphrastic poetics who writes through a diasporic life spanning Africa, Europe, and America. In The Age of Phillis Jeffers sheds imaginative light with poems that  bearing witness.”
—Katherine Ellington, writer for World House Medicine 

Listen to Ellington reading Wheatley’s poem “Imagination”.


Announcing “The Age of Phillis”

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The Age of Phillis illuminates an unbroken lineage, the way one poet pays homage to another and keeps the continuum for which we are all indebted. This is a necessary and visceral book, that brings to life the fullness of Wheatley.” —Matthew Shenoda, author of Tahir Suite

In the shadow of the American Revolution, a young, African American woman named Phillis Wheatley published a book of poetry, Poems on various Subjects, Religious and Moral (1773). When Wheatley’s book appeared, her words would challenge Western prejudices about African and female intellectual capabilities. Her words would astound many and irritate others, but one thing was clear: this young woman was extraordinary. 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 with her parents in the Gambia, West Africa, her life with her white American owners, her friendship with Obour Tanner, her marriage to the enigmatic John Peters, and her untimely death at the age of about thirty-three.

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. Read a sample poem below:

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


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.

The Age of Phillis, forthcoming from Honorée Fanonne Jeffers

Wesleyan University Press is pleased to announce we have secured the world rights to The Age of Phillis, a new volume of poetry by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, who is represented by Sarah Burnes at The Gernert Company.

The Age of Phillis is the result of over a decade of research and contemplation by Jeffers. She draws on historical sources to take readers into the world of Phillis Wheatley, the first black American woman to publish a book. Wheatley published a volume of poetry entitled Poems of Various Subjects, Religion, and Morals on September 1, 1773. Jeffers imagines Wheatley’s thoughts as she navigates life as an intellectual, as an enslaved person, as an observant poet, and as a woman of African descent—eventually a freed woman, and wife, whose life would be cut short by poverty and illness.

Wesleyan plans for for a Spring 2020 publication date.

About the Author

Honorée Fanonne Jeffers is the author of four previous books of poetry including The Glory Gets, published by Wesleyan University Press in May 2015. Her other books are: The Gospel of Barbecue (Kent State, 2000)—selected by Lucille Clifton for the Wick Poetry Prize and a finalist for the Paterson Poetry Prize, Outlandish Blues (Wesleyan, 2003), and Red Clay Suite (Southern Illinois, 2007).

Her poetry has appeared in American Poetry Review, African American Review, Callaloo, The Kenyon Review, Iowa Review, Massachusetts Review, Obsidian III, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, and has been anthologized in Angles of Ascent: A Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry (2011) and Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry (Georgia, 2009). Her critical writing has appeared in The Kenyon Review and Virginia Quarterly Review. Jeffers has received numerous awards and honors, including a Witter Bynner Fellowship through the Library of Congress, a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Julia Peterkin Award for Poetry, the Harper Lee Award for Literary Distinction, a lifetime achievement honor, and an award from the Rona Jaffe Foundation for Women Writers. For her research on Phillis Wheatley, Jeffers was elected into the American Antiquarian Society, a learned organization for the study of early American history and culture, to which fourteen US presidents have elected. She is a professor of English at the University of Oklahoma.

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