Phillis Wheatley's Poems at 250

11 September 2023

This month, September 2023, marks the 250th anniversary of the publication of Phillis Wheatley’s book Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. These poems by a prodigiously talented writer, barely out of her teens, are also the first book of imaginative literature in English to be published by a person of African heritage. It is a landmark in English and African American literature.

To celebrate the anniversary of Wheatley’s book, the University of St Andrews has mounted a display of the copy of the book it has held in its Library since 1773. The book can be found in Gallery 2 of the Wardlaw Museum, on The Scores. Next to it are two other books from our collections that respond to Wheatley in very different ways: The Letters of Ignatius Sancho, An African and Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia.

To supplement the physical exhibition, an online Exhibit has been created that compares different copies of Wheatley’s book, looks at the history of the St Andrews copy, and considers Wheatley’s writing practice and social networks. Events accompanying the exhibit will take place in October and can be found on the Museum’s events pages.

The exhibition and events have been organised by Jahzel Asi (Undergraduate Research Intern, School of English), Elizabeth Henderson (Rare Books Librarian) and Tom Jones (School of English). We hope you will join us in celebrating Wheatley’s epoch-making book!