News | September 5, 2023

Exhibit Celebrates 250th anniversary of Phillis Wheatley's First Book of African American Poetry

Alexis Pauline Gumbs/Center for the History of Print and Digital Culture

Detail from exhibition poster

In September 1773, Phillis Wheatley published Poems on Various Subjects Religious and Moral in London, becoming the first African American writer to publish a book of poetry, and only the third colonial American woman of any race to publish a book. It included a copperplate engraved portrait of her seated at a writing desk with pen, paper, and book, the first individual portrait of an African American woman. 

This exhibit, a collaboration between the Center for the History of Print and Digital Culture and UW-Madison Libraries Special Collections, celebrates the semiquincentennial of Poems on Various Subjects and traces how Wheatley’s poetry, image, and name have been reprinted, recirculated, and remixed by and for educators, activists, artists, and readers of all ages in every era over the last 250 years. 

Exhibit highlights include:

  • the 1773 first edition of Poems on Various Subjects Religious and Moral including an engraved portrait of Phillis Wheatley
  • numeros other Wheatley publications from her lifetime and the early 19th century
  • children’s books telling Wheatley’s life story
  • poetry by Black feminists drawing inspiration from Wheatley

The exhibit is free and open to the public.