Sunday, September 8, 2013

Sunday Salon ~ Phillis Wheatley

I ran across Phillis Wheatley this week, in my reading of America's Women by Gail Collins (2003).  A few years ago, I read My Name Is Phillis Wheatley: A Story of Slavery and Freedom by Afua Cooper (2009) and wrote a short teaser from that book (click on the book's title to read it).  Gail Collins, covering 400 years of the history of American women, devoted almost a page and a half to Phillis Wheatley:  born in Senegal, enslaved at age seven or eight, purchased in Boston by John Wheatley as a personal servant for his wife, taught by their daughter to read English, writing poetry by the time she was thirteen.  Phillis was an exceptional person.  John Wheatley freed her, when they returned from England.
Small slave house door on Gorée Island, through which slaves departed Senegal
"Her work began appearing in New England newspapers, and she became a regional celebrity. ... Treated more as a daughter than a servant by the Wheatley family, Phillis became known for her poise and conversation as well as her writing.  In Britain, the Countess of Huntingdon admired one of her poems, and arranged the publication of a book by 'a very Extraordinary female Slave.'  The high point of Phillis Wheatley's life came in 1773, when she traveled to England, where she was taken up by the literary celebrities of the day and invited to be presented at court. ... she was the first American writer to achieve international fame" (p. 77).
Notice that it says Phillis Wheatley was "the first American writer to achieve international fame" — not the first African-American writer.  Benjamin Franklin read her work, and George Washington invited her to visit him during the Revolutionary War.  "None of her three children lived past infancy, and she was working as a servant in a cheap tavern when she died at the age of thirty-one" (p. 78).  What a loss.

My friend Jelani, looking over the Atlantic from that Gorée doorway in 2003

The New Yorker gives a brief history of the hashtag, manicule, diple, pilcrow, and ampersand in The Ancient Roots of Punctuation.

This pointing hand is a manicle. The word manicle comes from the Latin maniculum, meaning "little hand."  The writer would draw a little hand in the margin of a manuscript to point out something important.  This manicle points out the fact that Bonnie's Books reportedly had 601 pageviews on August 29th.  I haven't had that many (that I was aware of) since the 749 pageviews on April 16, 2012.  I have no idea what prompted these larger-than-usual numbers.
The pilcrow symbol is related to the cent sign on the right.  Can you see a similarity?  Read the New Yorker article to learn about the hashtag (also called hash mark, octothorpe, and number sign, which is what I call it when I write that I live in apartment #515).

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