HEAV’NLY TIDINGS FROM THE AFRIC MUSE: The Grace and Genius of Phillis Wheatley

HEAV’NLY TIDINGS FROM THE AFRIC MUSE: The Grace and Genius of Phillis Wheatley

HEAV’NLY TIDINGS FROM THE AFRIC MUSE: The Grace and Genius of Phillis Wheatley

Published by Paragon House in January 2017


She appeared naked on the wharf at Boston harbor after surviving the horrific Middle Passage across the Atlantic. The frail little girl was just seven when she was purchased as a slave in 1761. By the time she turned twenty Phillis Wheatley became the most famous person of African descent in the world.

How did a young woman who arrived in this country as a slave, unable to read, write or even speak a word of English, become a classic poet whose work is now anthologized in every major collection of American poetry?

Immersed in a culture dominated by white supremacy, she forced those around her to acknowledge her humanity and confront the inequity of her status as a slave.

HEAV’NLY TIDINGS FROM THE AFRIC MUSE shows how Phillis Wheatley wrote her way to freedom.

Developing previously unexplored material and adding new information with fresh perspectives, HEAV’NLY TIDINGS FROM THE AFRIC MUSE offers the opportunity to reevaluate the unique role Phillis Wheatley played in the tumultuous birth of our nation. Her own words, taken from her writings, resurrect the spirit of the poet for twenty-first-century America.

Here is the authoritative story of a gifted young woman who managed to launch two literary traditions at once: African-American literature and women’s literature. Phillis Wheatley can now take her place among our Founding Fathers and Founding Mothers as the true “Poet Laureate” of the American Revolution.


“Too long ignored by scholars of American poetry, Wheatley’s oeuvre is finally regarded as an indispensable part of the national heritage. It provides a glimpse into the birth of African-American literature, American women’s literature, and America itself. Using Wheatley’s poetry and other primary sources from the 18th century—including some that have only recently been rediscovered—Kigel argues for the exceptional place Wheatley inhabits in American letters….Wheatley was, as Kigel argues, the de facto poet laureate of the war, serving as both a champion and the embodiment of the humanistic values that would become the basis of the American identity….

“With a foreword in verse by Nikki Giovanni, the book deftly blends poetry, biography, and criticism to argue for Wheatley’s pre-eminence in the American literary pantheon. Kigel writes in a literary prose that summons the drama of Wheatley’s life in novelistic detail…Thoroughly researched and delightfully readable, the stirring book makes a fine addition to the growing library of Wheatley studies. A comprehensive and moving portrait of a resurrected American icon.”
KIRKUS REVIEW, June 1, 2017

“Phillis Wheatley is the mother of the African-American literary tradition and “the sable muse” of the American Revolution. With this masterful biography, she will be restored to her rightful place as a major figure in the intellectual history of the fledgling American Republic. Every student and scholar of American literature should read this well-written and carefully researched biography.”
–HENRY LOUIS GATES, Jr., Harvard University
“This is very impressive…I think this book should be read by every poet–to remind us how precious our freedom really is.”
–NIKKI GIOVANNI, one of our most celebrated and beloved poets, author of twenty-eight books, a Grammy nominee for The Nikki Giovanni Poetry Collection, recipient of seven NAACP Image Awards, the Rosa Parks woman of Courage Award, the Langston Hughes Medal for Outstanding Poetry and named as one of Oprah Winfrey’s twenty-five “Living Legends.”
“Richard Kigel’s biography, Heav’nly Tidings From the Afric Muse: The Grace and Genius of Phillis Wheatley, is not only timely but also written out of a robust respect for this poet whose eloquence subverted the stereotype of the African. This book captures a young woman in bondage who possessed the courage and audacity to rise within that peculiar institution to speak as a seer, as an early American poet who dared to praise the imagination as the capstone of human experience. Kigel gives us a servant of language, a truth-teller who survived with an amazing grace, and whose dynamic work continues to challenge us across centuries.”
–YUSEF KOMUNYAKAA, internationally acclaimed poet, Pulitzer Prize winner and finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. His poetry can be found in the collection The 100 Best African American Poems.
“Richard Kigel brings the passion of a Master Teacher to his biography of Phillis Wheatley, survivor of the Middle Passage and poet extraordinaire of the eighteenth century Atlantic. He makes clear that Wheatley is a proper heroine for our history-hungry times.”
— MARCUS REDIKER, author of The Amistad Rebellion: An Atlantic Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom, History Professor, University of Pittsburgh.
Learn more on the book’s page at Paragon House.