Amazing Grace: An Anthology of Poems about Slavery 1660 – 1810.

 

amazinggracecover-e1380623982425Bringing together more than 400 poems and poetic excerpts on slavery by writers both famous and unknown, this landmark anthology charts the emergence of slavery in the collective consciousness of the English-speaking world.

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Editorial Reviews:

“This enormous, in some ways groundbreaking, anthology shows the range and depth of verse about the captivity, enslavement and sometime freedom of peoples of African descent in the English-speaking world, from 1660 (when Britain restored its monarchy) to 1810 (just after Britain banned the Atlantic slave trade). Basker is a professor of English at Columbia and an 18th-century scholar and expert on antislavery movements. Among the 400 poems by more than 250 authors here, he includes whole published works-lyric, expository and narrative-along with excerpts from long poems and verse-dramas. Some excerpts seem forced, touching on Africa, Africans or slavery only in passing. Mostly, however, the poems hit home; though many are stylistically unremarkable (and resemble one another), almost all have some historical or human interest. Verse from Defoe, Johnson and Wordsworth stands alongside many more poems-from hymns to romances-by relative unknowns. Michael Wigglesworth’s “Puritan Ode” proclaims black souls equal to white in the eyes of God; in another poem, a “transported felon” describes Virginia servitude. Other highlights include poems in abolitionist mini-genres (such as the several poems entitled “The Dying African”); verse by the Afro-American astronomer Benjamin Banneker; and a prizewinning antislavery ode (originally in Greek) by a young Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Overall, this big book documents the increasing power of abolitionist sentiment over the century; the rising body of work written by slaves and former slaves; and the repellent backlash of pro-slavery writing-though Basker writes, “the overwhelming majority” of the period’s poems “portray slavery as ugly and evil.”

-From Publishers Weekly

“The most definitive collection of anti-slavery sentiment in verse yet compiled, essential reading for historians and literary critics alike. . . . A major contribution.”

—Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Harvard University

“An astounding literary and editorial achievement.”

—David Blight, Yale University

“Comprehensive. . . . The illuminating introduction . . . sets forth, economically and helpfully, the larger historical context (material, religious, legal, political) that gave rise to these poems. . . . [Basker’s] list of bibliographical sources . . . makes the book of permanent scholarly value. . . . The historical interest [of Amazing Grace] is exceptional.”

—Helen Vendler, New Republic

“The most definitive collection of anti-slavery sentiment in verse yet compiled, essential reading for historians and literary critics alike. . . . A major contribution.”

—Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Harvard University

“An astounding literary and editorial achievement.”—David Blight, Yale University
“Comprehensive. . . . The illuminating introduction . . . sets forth, economically and helpfully, the larger historical context (material, religious, legal, political) that gave rise to these poems. . . . (Basker’s) list of bibliographical sources . . . makes the book of permanent scholarly value. . . . The historical interest [of Amazing Grace] is exceptional.”

—Helen Vendler, New Republic

“Monumental in scope, vision, and editorial skill.”

—Choice

“A big, moving book, vital reading for any student of the subject.”

—Hugo Worthy, Antiquarian Book Review

“Amazing Grace adds incomparably rich sources to our understanding of the cultural changes in the Anglo-American world that made antislavery movements both possible and eventually effective.”

—David Brion Davis, Yale University

 

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