Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784) lived an incredibly difficult life, yet her poetry is still read and studied some 230 years later. She was enslaved to a Boston family who, unusually for the time, educated her—she could read Greek and Latin classics at the age of 12—and picked up on her talent for writing. Her collection, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, was the first book published by an African-American woman writer, and a bestseller in both the colonies and England. Wikipedia reports that George Washington, Voltaire and John Paul Jones admired her poems. But after her emancipation in 1778, she had trouble getting published again. Her husband was imprisoned for debt, and Wheatley worked at menial labor until she died at just 31, penniless.