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Paul Laurence Dunbar Biography

(1872–1906), Oak and Ivy, Majors and Minors, Lyrics of Lowly Life, Lyrics of the Hearthside

verse poetry lyrics dayton

African-American novelist, playwright, and poet, born in Dayton, Ohio, educated at Dayton High School. Dunbar was one of the most important black American writers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, in part because of his singular contributions to dialect verse. He began writing poetry whilst working as a lift operator in an office building in Dayton and his first volume of verse, Oak and Ivy, was privately published in 1893. His poetry came to the attention of William Dean Howells whose defence of dialect poetry in his review of Dunbar's second volume, Majors and Minors (1895), transformed him from an obscure poet into a nationally known figure. Howells spoke of a ‘direct and fresh authority’ in the verse and it was this, coupled with Dunbar's ear for the rhythms and inflections of black speech, that gave the poetry such realism and sympathy. Among other volumes of verse published in his lifetime are Lyrics of Lowly Life (1896), Lyrics of the Hearthside (1899), Poems of Cabin and Field (1899), Lyrics of Love and Laughter (1903), Li'l' Gal (1904), Lyrics of Sunshine and Shadow (1905), and Joggin' Erlong (1906); the Complete Poems were published in 1913. Dunbar was prolific though less celebrated for his novels and plays; his play Dream Lovers (1898) was set to music by Samuel Coleridge Taylor. His novels include The Uncalled (1898) and The Love of Landry (1900), while Folks from Dixie (1898), The Strength of Gideon and Other Stories (1900), In Old Plantation Days (1903), and The Heart of Happy Hollow (1904) are collections of short stories. The Dunbar Reader (1975) was edited by Jay Martin and Gossie H. Hudson. Dunbar was an immensely successful reader of his own work in the USA, and he visited England in 1897. He served as an assistant in the Library of Congress between 1897 and 1898. See A Singer in the Dawn: Reinterpretations of Dunbar (1975), edited by Jay Martin.

Alice Dunbar-Nelson Biography - (1875–1935), Violets and Other Tales, The Goodness of St Rocque [next]

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