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Paul Lawrence Dunbar

(1872—1906)


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(1872–1906),

born in Dayton, Ohio, of parents who had been slaves in Kentucky, and resided in that city most of his short life, early displaying his talents as a poet. Under the auspices of the Moravian Church but with his own funds he issued a booklet of his lyrics, Oak and Ivy, in 1893, followed by Majors and Minors (1895), both treating black themes with both pathos and humor. He supported himself by menial jobs, including one that Frederick Douglass arranged at the Haiti Building in the Columbian Exposition at Chicago, but when Howells gave the second collection of poems a long and enthusiastic review. Dunbar's reputation was established. The best of the earlier poetry and some new works were then printed by a major publisher as Lyrics of Lowly Life (1896) with a preface by Howells. He became a popular reader of his poetry on a lecture circuit in the U.S. and England and held a job at the Library of Congress until sickness forced him to leave. Meanwhile he wrote further poems using folk materials and situations of plantation life set forth in dialect and exhibiting the influence of Burns and James Whitcomb Riley, and even the sentimental views of white interpreters of the Old South. These appeared in Lyrics of the Hearthside (1899). Lyrics of Love and Laughter (1903). and Lyrics of Sunshine and Shadow (1905). He also wrote a one-act musical play. Uncle Eph's Christmas (1900). and four novels: The Uncalled (1896). The Love of Landry (1900). The Fanatics (1901). and The Sport of the Gods (1902), melodramatic stories, the first three about whites, respectively concerning an orphan, an American aristocrat roughing it in Colorado, and conflicts between Southerners and Unionists in the Civil War era. while the last novel treats a black family from the South caught up in crime in Harlem.

Subjects: Literature.


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