African American Poetry (1870-1927): A Digital Anthology

Paul Laurence Dunbar, Biographical Note in "Caroling Dusk" (1927) (Alice Dunbar Nelson)

[Biographical note by Alice Dunbar-Nelson:]

Paul LAURENCE DUNBAR. Born, Dayton, Ohio, June 27, 1872. Educated in public schools, and graduated from Dayton High School, where he achieved some distinction. Editor of school paper, and noted as a versifier, from his grammar-school days. Printed his first book, Oak and
Ivy
, in 1893.

Two friends of his early manhood helped most to shape his career, and to encourage him in his days of struggle--- Dr. H. A. Tobey, the celebrated alienist of Toledo, Ohio, and Frederick Douglass. The former helped him to bring his second book, Majors and Minors, before the public; the latter, with whom he was associated in the Negro Building at the World's Fair in Chicago in 1893, was the hero of the poet's dreams, the one to whom he dedicated two of his
most serious poems.

Although Dunbar is remembered largely for his dialect verse, it was never his intention to concentrate on dialect. His poems in pure English constitute the greater bulk of his verse, and that to which he was most passionately devoted. The tragedy of his life was that the world “turned to praise the jingle in a broken tongue." His friendship for Booker Washington and a visit to Tuskegee inspired him to write the Tuskegee School Song, which is sung to
the tune of “Fair Harvard.”

The famous criticism of Majors and Minors by William Dean Howells in Harper's Weekly, June 27, 1897 established Dunbar's prestige as an important figure in American literature. From that time his success was assured. He was married to Alice Ruth Moore of New Orleans, &
teacher in Brooklyn, N. Y., in March, 1898.

He was as indefatigable a writer of prose as of poetry; short stories, novels, criticism, essays and some short plays poured from his pen. His published works, exclusive of. the two volumes of verse mentioned above, are: Lyrics of Lowly Life, Lyrics of the Hearthside, Lyrics of Sunshine and Shadow; several smaller volumes, illustrated editions of poems in the preceding volumes; short stories, Folks from Dixie, The Strength of Gideon; novels, The Uncalled, The Fanatics, The Love of Landry, The Sport of the Gods.

He died in Dayton, Ohio, February 9, 1906.

Published in Caroling Dusk1927