The Story of Phillis Wheatley Critical Context - Essay

Shirley Graham

Critical Context

The Story of Phillis Wheatley was published in 1949 and was in its fourteenth printing in 1977, the year of Graham’s death. Graham wrote several biographies for young people, including books about Booker T. Washington, Frederick Douglass, and George Washington Carver. Her second husband was the famous African-American writer W. E. B. Du Bois. Graham’s contribution to young people’s knowledge of African-American history and the contribution of African-American individuals in United States history is undeniable.

Beginning in the 1830’s, when abolitionists began to publish her poems, Wheatley finally achieved her niche in American literature. She is rarely left out of survey anthologies, as scholars recognize both her incredible life story and her place among other writers of Colonial America. Her standing and regard as an important American writer is established.

Graham’s book, however, goes beyond simply telling about a famous person. In her narrative about Wheatley, Graham presents first of all a good story, one that can engage readers and hold their interest from cover to cover. She also provides a vivid example of the effects of humanity in the midst of the world’s greatest inhumanity, slavery. The Wheatleys cared for Phillis as a person, and she cared for them in the same manner. This relationship is the beauty of life that Graham sought to record for young readers.