Black History Month 2020

Black History Month is a time to look backwards, but also forwards to future possibilities. Against the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter protests this year, we felt it was important that Renard included classics celebrating black history in its list, thereby – as we promised when we set up – fleshing out the literary classics canon with underrepresented voices from across the globe. We are thrilled to be able to celebrate Black History Month with the publication of two ‘firsts’: the first known work by an African American author, and the first book of poetry ever published by an African American writer.

You can find out more about Black History Month here, and you can find out a bit more about Phillis here.

Phillis Wheatley

Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral
and A Memoir of Phillis Wheatley, a Native African and a Slave

128pp paperback
ISBN: 9781913724146
£8.99 £6.29

 
In 1773, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral became the first book of poetry by an African-American author to be published. At the tender age of seven, Phillis had been brought to Massachusetts as a slave and sold to the well-to-do Wheatley family. There, she threw herself into education, and soon she was devouring the classics and writing verse with whatever she had to hand – odes in chalk on the walls of the house. Once her talent became known, there was uproar, and in 1772 she was interrogated by a panel of ‘the most respectable characters in Boston’ and forced to defend the ownership of her own words, since many believed that it was an impossible that she, an African-American slave, could write poetry of such high quality.

As related in the 1834 memoir by an outspoken proponent of antislavery, B.B. Thatcher, also included in this volume, the road to publication was not straight, and while it became clear that such a volume could not be published in America at the time, Phillis was recommended to a London publisher, who brought out the book – albeit with an attestation as to her authorship, as well as a ‘letter from her master’ and a short preface asking the reader’s indulgence. This edition includes the attestation, the ‘letter from her master’ and notes from the original publishers as an appendix, so that the twenty-first-century reader can discover Phillis Wheatley as she should have been read – as a poet, not property.

‘Elegant lines… the style and manner exhibit a striking proof of your great poetical talents.’ – George Washington

Bars Fight

Lucy Terry Prince

10pp hardback concertina
ISBN: 9781913724153
£2.50 £1.75

 
Bars Fight, a ballad telling the tale of an ambush by Native Americans on two families in 1746 in a Massachusetts meadow, is the oldest known work by an African-American author. Passed on orally until it was recorded in Josiah Gilbert Holland’s History of Western Massachusetts in 1855, the ballad is a landmark in the history of literature that should be on every book lover’s shelves.

‘[This] publication of Lucy Terry Prince’s Bars Fight is a stellar example of bringing a truly madly deeply neglected text back to life. Bravo!’ – Neglected Books