In You Must Be Born Again: Phillis Wheatley as Prophetic Poet, the author argues that Phillis Wheatley is the mother of liberation theology. The author uses Wheatley’s poetry and life experiences to create a portrait of Wheatley beyond that of a poet. Wheatley is described as both poet and visionary who wrestles with God during the creative process. The lyrical expressions of Wheatley’s poetry unlock the spiritual impressions on her heart. The author sets up the racial dynamics of Wheatley’s time and her engagement with those politics. As a preacher, Wheatley combats the immoral undercurrent that erodes the community’s social, economic, and spiritual foundation as well as its political systems. The author positions Wheatley as one uniquely qualified to address the hypocrisy within her world and, by implication, present-day society by calling for immersion into a radical understanding of love and justice, resulting in a renewed hope for equality and a pathway toward equity.
Reverend Wallis C. Baxter III serves as Senior Pastor of the Second Baptist Church Southwest in District Heights, MD.
Table of Contents
Introduction – “I Plead the First!”: Writing a New America
Chapter 1: Phillis Wheatley, the Poet-Theologian
Chapter 2: Encountering God through the Preacher: Wheatley’s Influences
Chapter 3: The Creativity of the Spoken Word
Chapter 4: Created in the Imagination
Chapter 5: Salvation is Available
Chapter 6: The Story behind the Voice
Epilogue – To Whom Much is Given
In Phillis Wheatley as Prophetic Poet: You Must be Born Again, Wallis Baxter, III, has not only added another significant scholarly voice (his own) to the still crucial conversation on liberation theology, he has also liberated this trailblazing 18th century bard from the confines of literary criticism and historicity that she may speak to a contemporary generation, desperately longing for another harmonious and efficacious rendering of freedom’s song.
By positioning Phillis Wheatley as the poet theologian who inaugurates what will become American liberation theology, Baxter brilliantly transforms and recalibrates the African American literary tradition, Wheatley studies, and Black liberation theory. Baxter argues that aesthetics, tradition, ethics, race, religion, history, and, indeed, freedom are central to Wheatley's art as prophetic consciousness, transforming both African American literary studies and seminary studies. A must read for scholars and readers of Wheatley and Black liberation theology, this interdisciplinary study is rigorously theorized, elegantly written, and critically rich. Phillis Wheatley as Prophetic Poet: You Must Be Born Again is a blessing for scholars, students, and readers of early American literature, African American literature, and Black liberation theology.
Even if Wallis Baxter had not told us in the early pages of this work, how could we fail to recognize his scholarly formation at Morehouse and Howard? A clear intellectual descendent of the great scholar/clergyman, Benjamin Mays, Baxter makes a case for Phillis Wheatley as the poetic herald of the hope of liberation for the captive Black in eighteenth-century America. To posit that the first searching articulations of Black liberation theology were not systematic but poetic, and from the quill pen of a Black woman is brilliant. Undoubtedly Phillis Wheatley as Prophetic Poet will have a wide cross-disciplinary audience.
Baxter frequently compares Wheatley's poetry to the works of other figures this era produced and unpacks ways Wheatley's writing coincides with biblical passages. He believes that through her writings, Wheatley “uses her mind to reimagine a world that represents the original created order of things, thereby articulating agency for herself and a new reality for her people” (p. 62). Later, Baxter challenges some of Wheatley’s critics and provides alternative ways of reading her work…. Recommended. Undergraduates through faculty and general readers.