David Waldstreicher on Phillis Wheatley

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

6:30 pm

Hybrid (see description for details)

Open to the Public

In conversation with Elizabeth McHenry in the Skylight Room

Headshots of David Waldstreicher and Elizabeth McHenry are pictured along with the book cover of "The Odyssey of Phillis Wheatley"
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Admired by George Washington, ridiculed by Thomas Jefferson, published in London, and read far and wide, Phillis Wheatley led one of the most extraordinary American lives. Seized in West Africa and forced into slavery as a child, she was sold to a merchant family in Boston, where she became a noted poet at a young age. Mastering the Bible, Greek and Latin translations, and the works of Pope and Milton, she composed elegies for local elites, celebrated political events, praised warriors, and used her verse to variously lampoon, question, and assert the injustice of her enslaved condition. “Can I then but pray / Others may never feel tyrannic sway?” 

In this new biography, David Waldstreicher offers the fullest account to date of Wheatley’s life and works, correcting myths, reconstructing intimate friendships, and deepening our understanding of her verse and the revolutionary era.  

David Waldstreicher has been a Distinguished Professor of History, American Studies and Africana Studies at the Graduate Center since 2014. He is the author of several previous books on early U.S. politics and culture, and has written recently for the Boston Review and The Atlantic.  

Elizabeth McHenry, Professor and Chair of the English Department at New York University, is the author of Forgotten Readers: Recovering the Lost History of African American Literary Societies (Duke 2002), which explores the long history of African Americans as readers in the context of their organized literary practices. Her most recent book, To Make Negro Literature: Writing, Literary Practice, and African American Authorship (Duke, 2021), returns to the archives of Black literature to examine a variety of projects and conditions of authorship that have been dismissed or gone largely unnoticed in traditional accounts of African American literary history.  

This is a hybrid event. Participants can choose to attend in person in the Skylight Room or online via Zoom.


CUNY attendees must show proof of vaccination by presenting a valid CUNY Access Pass through the CLEARED4 health validation platform upon entry. Non-CUNY visitors will need to show proof of ID by presenting a valid government-issued photo document. See the full Building Entry Policy for more information.

Cosponsored by the Institute for Research on the African Diaspora in the Americas and the Caribbean