Phillis Wheatley, African American Poet

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From Poetry Foundation online
Several years ago in a biography of preacher and evangelist Jonathan Edwards, I read the name of  “slave poet” Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784). Wheatley wrote an elegy (poem on the occasion of one’s death) for George Whitefield, one of Jonathan Edwards’ dear friends. Whitefield and Edwards were pillars of the Great Awakening that swept the world from England to the United States in the 1700’s and Wheatley had been greatly affected by the move of God in her own life. In fact, much of her strong Christian faith shows up in her poems, which I soon found out when I went looking.
What’s astonishing to me is the language and voice of Wheatley’s work. She was brought to America from Senegal/Gambia at the age of 7 and purchased by a family in Boston to purportedly “accompany the family’s children and share in domestic work.” As a result, she inadvertently was taught to read and write, receiving a stellar classical education alongside the children, something unheard for a slave. She read widely the literature and early works of Virgil and Ovid, John Milton and Shakespeare, and the style of her writing reflects this classical immersion.
The more I read the more surprised I was, assuming that all African slaves in the 1700’s were illtreated and illiterate. Thanks to my Sophomore English teacher, Dr. Kehl, I learned to love the language and style of Shakespeare’s writing (though I often needed assistance in deciphering his meaning.) When I first became a Christian I enjoyed the King James Version of the Bible for just that reason. Reading Wheatley’s poetry was like reading Shakespeare and I was drawn in.
Thanks to her owners and their wide circles in Boston society Wheatley’s work was known and shared widely in Boston and across the Atlantic. Her first published poem was printed when she was only 13 and she went on to write many, many more. Mary Wheatley, Phillis’ benefactress, saw to it that bookseller Archibald Bell begin to circulate Phillis’ work, and the debut edition of Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral was published in 1773. Poems on Various Subjects was the first volume of poetry by an American Negro published in modern times. Its readers included notables like Benjamin Franklin, among others and was well received and widely supported.

Five Female Poets of Faith

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One thing the world needs is for more people to read poetry. Especially from female writers of a certain age who identify as people of faith. I hope you enjoy this small round up and hope you’ll take the time to read more of their work via the links provided. You will be richer for it.

–Abigail Carroll

Photo:  Julian Russell

That I Might Dwell

That I might dwell in warbler
song, in fields of sorrel, fields
of stars, that dwelling in your
house I’d know, I’d rest, I’d play
at wonder. Oh that I might dwell

in pine-branched shade, among
the sway, among the praise of oak-fern,                                                                                        granite, jay nest, spruce—
among the shadow-dance of leaves,
the breeze unpinning doubt, all

apathy, all hollow hours, all fears.
Oh may I dwell in reverence here,
and dwelling in your house, I’ll
wait, I’ll pray, I’ll lay this body
down on what you’ve dreamed,

on what you’ve sung, spliced, spun,
twined, embroidered, breathed.
And dwelling in your house I’ll
know the peace of moss, the moth-                                                                                                  winged hush of unhinged awe,

musk of sage, gaze of deer. Oh let
me lose myself in rooms of fox-                                                                                                      glove, cowslip, wild plum, wren—
that I might taste the sleep of loam,
that I might tenant beauty here.

from Habitation of Wonder by Abigail Carroll (Wipf & Stock 2018)

Abigail Carroll is a poet and author whose most recent book, Habitation of Wonder (Wipf & Stock, 2018), is an offering of poems that travels the intersection of the natural landscape and the landscape of spirit. A Gathering of Larks: Letters to Saint Francis from a Modern-Day Pilgrim (Eerdmans, 2017), has been called “sparked with joy and stitched with whimsy” by the Chicago Tribune, and Three Squares: The Invention of the American Meal (Basic Books, 2013), was a finalist for the Zocalo Public Square Book Prize.

Click here for Abigail’s website.

5 Questions for… Sheila Wise Rowe

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This is third in a series, “5 Questions for…”, conversations with Christian writers of color. (You can read my other two interviews HERE-with Deidra Riggs and Sophfronia Scott).

I met Sheila Rowe at the Festival of Faith & Writing in April 2018 (pictured above in red, between poet Luci Shaw and writer Michelle Van Loon). Sheila was one of the featured readers at a book launch party for “The Wonder Years—40 Women Over 40,” an anthology edited by Leslie Leyland Fields.

Though she is quiet and low key in person, Sheila is a gentle powerhouse for Jesus. I chatted with her briefly after the party, remarking on the essay in “The Wonder Years” about her time living in Africa. The gathering was too short and I wanted to get to know her better. When I returned home to Seattle, I reached out about interviewing her. She said yes and I’m so grateful she did. I learned a lot first hand about what it’s like to be a Christian and an African American in our country right now, and how particularly to pray.

Here are 5 Questions for Sheila, but this time her responses are via audio (right below the list of questions.)

I hope you’ll take 10 minutes to listen and be informed, encouraged and inspired. (And find out about her Paris designer thrift store find!)

1.       Tell us about the Cyrene Movement. On your website it says the focus of your ministry is three-fold, to “Heal Racial Trauma – Realize Potential – Embrace Community.” How did this work come about? 

2.       The tagline of your first book, The Well of Life is, Heal Your Pain, Satisfy Your Thirst, Live Your Purpose. Tell us about that second phrase–Satisfy Your Thirst.

3.       You recently signed a book contract with Intervarsity Press. Tell us about the subject and how you came to write it.
 
4.       You are a gifted and anointed counselor as well as a very adventurous spirit. Tell us about your ‘day job’ at Rehoboth House that focuses on counseling and transformation.
 
5.       Lastly, you and I have a common love of thrift stores–what’s the most memorable find you ever purchased from a secondhand store?
You can read more about Sheila’s work and ministry on her website HERE. 

“The Sage Ones”–Ten Faith Writers Over 50

After my April visit to the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College (Grand Rapids MI), I came home resolved to do two things better with my small place on the internet. One of those resolutions is to champion the voices of women faith writers over the age of 50, vastly underrepresented in the webosphere, in my humble opinion. Of course, being over 50 (over 60) myself, I was keenly aware of the lack of more seasoned, experience writers speaking into the lives of younger people.
 
To that end, I reached out to 10 women whom I had either met in person over the years or whose work I had been following from afar. Each one graciously said “yes! count me in!”, sending me their photos and bios (told in first, second or third person, just to keep you on your toes.) 
 
May I present to you The Sage Ones–writers whose voices of experience, wisdom and wit are a much-needed commodity in our youth-obsessed culture. I hope you’ll look for their words online and connect via social media channels, Twitter, Instagram or Facebook. 
  1. Deidra Riggs                       Headshot 2018

I’m an author, speaker, and unashamed disco-lover. My husband and I are the happy inhabitants of an empty nest in Bloomfield, Connecticut. We are the proud parents of two adult children whom we love, practically to death, and Santana, our brilliant farm dog (we named her after Carlos, the musician), and Sasha Fierce, our high-maintenance Shi-Poo. 

My public writing and speaking most often seeks to gently nudge the status quo, introduce you to interesting people, and celebrate your right-now-right-here life, so that the best kind of love can take root in your soul.

I’m the author of two books: “Every Little Thing: Making a World of Difference Right Where You Are,” and “ONE: Unity in a Divided World.”

You can find Deidra online on her blog as well on Instagram.

  1. Diana Trautwein                     IMG_5651

You can call her Pastor Diana, Mom, Nana, Honey or ‘hey you, with the white hair,’ “all of them are who I am,” Diana says. Married to Richard for over 50 years, mom to three amazing adult kids (and MIL to three perfect partners for each), grandmother to 8 (ages 8-27), Pastor in two congregations after midlife, occasional blog writer, monthly essayist at SheLovesMagazine.com, writer of 2 e-books and a monthly newsletter/photo journal, Diana is retired from pastoral ministry and offers spiritual direction in her Northern California home and via Skype/FaceTime.

Diana’s words can be found at www.dianatrautwein.  She’s also on Instagram, Facebook and “very occasionally” Twitter @drgtrautwein.

  1. Elizabeth Stewart                       me

Elizabeth Stewart is a young at heart 60-year-old who is passionate about making the rest of her life the best of her life and encouraging others to do the same. She is a whole-hearted Jesus follower who has been married to her pastor husband for over 40 years. She has three wonderful daughters, three great sons-in-law, and six amazing grandchildren. Elizabeth is active in teaching God’s Word and mentoring others in her Portland-area church and through their various outreach ministries.

She writes regularly on her personal blog, justfollowingjesus.com and weekly for Woman to Woman ministries, and is pursuing her interest in writing, her love of photography, and her passion for all things creative and beautiful.

4. Karen Swallow Prior             drPrior-52-edit-b

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University in Virginia, where her academic focus is British literature, with a specialty in the eighteenth century. She loves this period for its emphasis on philosophy, ethics, aesthetics, and community, as well as its efforts at correcting the universal human impulse to gravitate toward extremes.

Her writing appears at Christianity TodayThe AtlanticThe Washington PostFirst ThingsVoxThink Christian, The Gospel Coalition, Books and Culture and other places. She is the author of Booked, Literature in the Soul of Me (T. S. Poetry Press, 2012), and Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More–Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist (Thomas Nelson, 2014), and the forthcoming On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great Literature (Brazos, 2018).

Karen and her husband live in rural Virginia with sundry dogs, horses, and chickens, where she is currently recuperating from being hit by a bus. That story is here. Although, judging from all her posts on Twitter, it hasn’t slowed her down much. 

5. Lancia Smith                                          Lancia 1 v6 4x6 fade

Lancia E. Smith is an author, photographer, teacher, and business owner based in northern Colorado. She is founder The Cultivating Project and editor-in-chief of Cultivating, the quarterly online magazine dedicated to encouraging and inspiring believers engaged in creative endeavors. A grateful lover of the Triune God and passionate about spiritual formation, Lancia teaches in conferences and workshops across the United States and in England.

She and her husband Peter run a thriving environmental and engineering firm and try to keep up with their rambling house and gardens in Colorado, called House on the Way. Lancia has been blogging and running websites since 2005 and writing since she could hold a pen.

6. Laurie Klein                              Laurie-Klein

Laurie Klein’s poetry and prose appear widely in Christian and secular journals, anthologies, audiobooks, music resources and recordings. She is the author of the classic praise chorus, “I Love You, Lord,” and the poetry collection, Where the Sky Opens (Poeima Poetry Series, Cascade). A past recipient of the Thomas Merton Prize for Poetry of the Sacred, Klein also served as co-founder/consulting editor for Rock & Sling: A Journal of Literature, Art and Faith (2003-2008).

These days, helping distracted, heart-weary people refocus on God in creative ways that spark hope and wholeness enlivens her, and inclusion in Jody’s company of women generates more grins than one aging face can hold.

Klein loves her life in the Pacific Northwest: family, friends, and an elderly Labrador, fierce crossword puzzles, too many books, gardening, travel, photography, exercise class, kayaking, collage, and calligraphy. Writing bios sharply reminds her that God works wonders, over time, through surrendered lives. Visit her at lauriekleinscribe.com.

7. Leslie Leyland Fields                         l l fields

Leslie Leyland Fields is the award-winning author/editor of ten books including the newest release, an anthology of essays, The Wonder Years: 40 Women Over 40 on Aging, Faith, Beauty and Strength.  She teaches and speaks around the world on writing, forgiveness, discipleship, parenting and faith.

Every September, she runs the Harvester Island Wilderness Workshop, a writing workshop on her island in Alaska, where this year she welcomes Ann Voskamp as her guest writer. Last year Leslie hit 60 and decided that age (along with her new neck wrinkles) is cause for humility, wonder, new friends and reckless joy! 

She blogs at leslieleylandfields.com where you can also find information about this September’s Workshop. 

8. Michele Morin                                  michele m

Michele Morin is a teacher, blogger, reader, and gardener in Maine who finds joy in sitting at a table surrounded by women with open Bibles.  She has been married to an unreasonably patient husband for nearly 30 years, and together they have four sons, two daughters-in-love, two grandchildren, and one lazy St. Bernard.

Michele loves hot tea and well-crafted sentences, poems that stop her in her tracks and days at the ocean with the whole family.  She laments biblical illiteracy and advocates for the prudent use of “little minutes.”

She blogs at Living Our Days because “the way we live our days will be, after all, the way we live our lives.”  

9. Nancy Ruegg                             Nancy R

Nancy is mother to three grown children and Nana to three granddaughters.  She is a former Elementary school teacher (26 years) and has been writing on her blog since November 2012.  Nancy loves interacting with other online writers, offering encouragement and becoming friends, especially meeting these friends face to face.

She is in the process of self-publishing a Bible study, Weaving a Tapestry of Worship. Another Bible study, Catching a Glimpse of God’s Glory, is in the wings. “Years ago” she authored a devotional booklet for Haven Ministries, Children of the Heavenly Father. More recently one of her stories was published in the anthology, Abba’s Promise (Cross River Media, 2016). Reading, writing, Bible study, playing with grandchildren, coffee with friends, and the occasional craft project fill the many happy hours of her present life-chapter called retirement.

       You can find Nancy’s blog From the Inside Out here.  

10. Shelly Hunt Wildman              shelly h wildman

Shelly Wildman is a former writing instructor at Wheaton College and author of First Ask Why: Raising Kids to Love God Through Intentional Discipleship (Kregel). Shelly holds degrees from Wheaton College (BA) and University of Illinois at Chicago (MA), but her most important life’s work has been raising her three adult daughters.

She and her husband, Brian have been married for 33 years and live in Wheaton, IL. Shelly speaks to women’s groups in the Chicago area and spends much of her free time mentoring young women. When she has time, she loves to cook, read, and travel.

        You can catch up with Shelly here.

5 Questions for…Sophfronia Scott

sophfronia2I  met Sophfronia Scott at the Festival of Faith and Writing in Grand Rapids April 2018.  I’d admired her writing work from afar, particularly an essay in Ruminate magazine about dancing in her kitchen. I knew she’d be speaking at the Festival and scanned the meeting places, looking for her beautiful dreadlocks and beaming smile. I noticed her at one of the hotel counters and taking gumption in hand, I introduced myself, told her what a fan I was of her writing and asked if I could interview her. She said “yes!” May I introduce Sophfronia Scott.

1) In your essay collection “Love’s Long Line” you begin by telling your readers about the tragedy at Sandy Hook elementary where your son Tain was attending 3rd grade. After this book, you went on to write a book with him, “This Child of Faith: Raising a Spiritual Child in a Secular World.” What was that process like, working with a young child who also happens to be your son?

First of all, your readers should know that the way our book is set up, I’ve written the main narrative but each chapter contains a section called “Tain’s Take” where he’s written his version of the story. I didn’t want a combined voice because Tain’s voice is really what got us here. I thought he should have his own space in the book. Working on that space wasn’t always easy. We recently spoke to the writing classes at his school, Newtown Middle School, and one of the things Tain told his fellow students was how frustrating it was because of the many times I would send his writing back to him because he hadn’t told a story fully or included enough details.

As we started to work I found it interesting how the questions Tain asked about the process and the issues I guided him through were the same ones I work on with my adult creative nonfiction students. Tain was concerned that he couldn’t remember exactly some of the events because he was younger, really another person, then. At the time he was 12 writing about when he was 5 to 9 years old. I taught him how he could research his own life, how there were clues to help him. He interviewed our minister and the Sunday school director at our church. It was hard work, especially as the deadline pressed upon us. But I’ll never forget the day when the finished book arrived and I put it on the passenger seat of my minivan for when I picked him up from school. When he saw it he said, “We did it!” and high-fived me. I loved that moment.

5 Questions for…Deidra Riggs

I began following Deidra Riggs online way back in 2012; I enjoyed her honesty, her wisdom and her down-to-earth take on spiritual issues. We finally met in person at the 2014 Faith and Culture Writer’s Conference in Oregon and we’ve continued the conversation on and off line since. I so appreciate her voice in the world. Please meet Deidra.

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1)      You’ve worn many hats in the online Christian community—Managing Editor at the High Calling, TEDx talk speaker, blogger and author now of two books. Tell us about that journey.

​I believe strongly in going through the doors that open. It’s an approach that works well for me, because I’m not Type A, and I’m not much of a planner. So, I’ve never really had a “Five Year Plan” or anything like that. I live very much in the moment. For me, trying to chart a particular course is way to stressful. There are too many details to keep track of when I’m charting a course. Instead, I have found that, for me, life turns out best when I truly let God be in control of the details. In each of the life experiences you’ve mentioned — managing editor, doing a TEDx talk, speaking, blogging, and writing books — someone approached me. I never sought out these opportunities. However, they are opportunities that fit well with my strengths, my gifts, and my passions. There are things in life I’d like to do, like live in Manhattan or be a grandmother, but those doors have not opened for me. Maybe they will, at some point in the future, but for now, I have to trust the closed doors just as much as I trust the ones that open.​

2)      Speaking of journeys, you’ve moved from Detroit to Nebraska and now to Connecticut. What precipitated the moves and what has that been like?

​I was actually born in Germany and lived in many different places before we moved to Southfield, a suburb of Detroit. My dad was in the army, and that was the reason for my earlier moves. Later, I married my husband who was in seminary at the time, and so I moved to New York state to be with him. Then, as his ministry was beginning, we moved a few more times before living twelve years in Nebraska. Now, my husband serves as the Executive Minister of the American Baptist Churches of Connecticut, so here we are.