Dunbar, Paul Laurence, 1872-1906

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1872-06-27
Death 1906-02-09
Americans
English

Biographical notes:

Poet and author.

From the description of Papers of Paul Laurence Dunbar, 1873-1936. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 71067921

Paul Laurence Dunbar of Dayton, Ohio, was an African-American writer of fiction, poetry, and plays. Dunbar is widely acknowledged as the first important black poet in American literature. He also worked at the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C, as an assistant clerk, 1897-1898.

From the description of Paul Laurence Dunbar letters and leaflet, 1898-1904. (Pennsylvania State University Libraries). WorldCat record id: 48822700

Afro-American writer.

From the description of Signature, [ca. 1890-1906]. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 122586736

American poet.

From the description of Christmas is A-Comin : autograph poem signed : [n.p., n.d.]. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 270745076

From the description of Papers of Paul Laurence Dunbar, 1892-1902. (University of Virginia). WorldCat record id: 32135370

Poet and novelist.

From the description of Paul Laurence Dunbar collection, 1892-1902. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 122615905

African American poet and fiction writer.

From the description of Paul Laurence Dunbar "Rain Songs" manuscript, circa 1895. (Cornell University Library). WorldCat record id: 253640765

Epithet: Negro poet

British Library Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue : Person : Description : ark:/81055/vdc_100000000684.0x0002cc

Paul L. Dunbar was a poet and an author who was acknowledged as the first important Black poet in American literature. The son of Matilda and Joshua Dunbar, natives of Kentucky, Dunbar was born on June 27, 1872, in Dayton, Ohio and died Feb. 9, 1906. Matilda Dunbar was a remarkable woman, who was devoted to her son and had a great influence on him. Dunbar attended Dayton's Central High School and graduated with honors in 1891. Paul, the only Black in his class, became class President, became an editor of the High School Times, and wrote the class song. Upon graduation he took a job as an elevator boy in the Callahan Building on Main Street. While employed there, he produced articles, short stories and poems that later earned him fame. In 1893 his first book Oak & Ivy was published by the United Brethren Publishing Co. On March 8, 1898, he married Alice Ruth Moore, a teacher and writer from New Orleans. They separated in 1902, and this caused Dunbar to suffer emotional depression. At the same time, he developed tuberculosis.

Dunbar gained popularity throughout the country because of his dialect poems and the positive reviews of his work received from William Dean Howells. Altogether Dunbar produced 12 poetry books, four books of short stories, five novels and one drama.

From the description of Paul L. Dunbar Collection 1890-to present. (Dayton Metro Library). WorldCat record id: 31773015

Paul Laurence Dunbar was a poet and an author who was acknowledged as the first important black poet in American literature. His poetic and literary knowledge is evident from the collection of his writings available in our library. His ability was recognized from early childhood and he enjoyed his greatest popularity in the early twentieth century; he wrote not only dialect poems but also novels, short stories, essays, and many poems in standard English.

Paul Laurence Dunbar, son of Matilda and Joshua Dunbar, was born on June 27, 1872, in Dayton, Ohio. Dunbar attended Dayton's Central High School and graduated with honors in 1891. Paul's parents separated in 1874 when Paul was two years old and essentially nothing is known of his father. Paul, the only black in his class, became class president, became an editor of The High School Times, and wrote the class song. Dunbar was a contemporary and neighbor of the Wright brothers, who published Dunbar's Dayton Tattler, a black-oriented weekly newspaper.

On March 8, 1898, he married Miss Alice Ruth Moore, a teacher and writer from New Orleans. They separated in 1902, and this caused Dunbar to suffer emotional depression. At the same time he developed tuberculosis. On February 9, 1906, he died in Dayton at the age of 33 and was buried in Woodland Cemetery.

Paul Laurence Dunbar, the son of Matilda and Joshua Dunbar, natives of Kentucky, was born on June 27, 1872, in Dayton, Ohio, and died there on February 9, 1906. Paul's parents separated in 1874 when Paul was two years old and essentially nothing is known of his father. Paul had a younger sister, Elizabeth, who died in infancy. His mother was left on her own, making a living as a "colored washerwoman." Among her customers was the Wright family. Matilda Dunbar was a remarkable woman, who was devoted to her son and had a great influence on him. Born in slavery, she learned poetry by listening to her slave-master read poetry to his family in the evenings, and she was determined that Paul receive an education and inspired him in the writing of poetry. Dunbar attended Dayton's Central High School and graduated with honors in 1891. Paul, the only black in his class, became class president, became an editor of The High School Times, and wrote the class song, a poem of eight stanzas which was sung at the commencement ceremonies on June 16, 1891, at the Grand Opera House. On December 13, 1890, Dunbar and an associate, Preston Finley, published the first issue of Dayton Tattler, a black-oriented weekly newspaper printed by Wright and Wright, Printers, owned by Orville and Wilbur Wright. He was chosen president of the "Philomathean Society," a literary organization, and in our collection we have cartoon illustrations done by Ernest Blumenschein, another classmate of Paul's who later became a well-known painter and illustrator. Ernest's father was also a well known and respected musician and composer associated with the Dayton Philharmonic Society. He set to music one of Dunbar's hymns.

While growing up, Paul helped his mother by delivering her laundry bundles and working part-time in hotels. Upon graduation he aspired to a career in law but was financially unable to continue his studies. He was rejected for jobs by many Dayton businesses, including newspapers, because of his race. He took a job as an elevator boy in the Callahan Building on Main Street. While employed as an elevator boy, he produced articles, short stories and poems that later earned him fame.

Dunbar's first appearance before a critical audience was on his twentieth birthday on June 27, 1892, when he gave the welcoming address to the Western Association of Writers, then convening in Dayton. This was arranged by one of his former teachers, Mrs. Helen Tuesdale. At the meeting Paul was befriended by James Newton Matthews, who praised Dunbar's work in a letter to an Illinois newspaper. Matthews' letter was eventually reprinted by newspapers throughout the country and brought recognition to Dunbar outside of Dayton. One of the readers was the poet James Whitcomb Riley, who read Dunbar's work and wrote him a commendatory letter. Paul was encouraged by Riley and Matthews and decided to publish his poems. With the assistance of William L. BLocher and Orville and Wilbur Wright, Dunbar approached the United Brethren Publishing House of Dayton, which eventually printed his first book, entitled Oak and Ivy . In 1895 Dunbar went to Toledo and, with the help of attorney Charles A. Thatcher and psychiatrist Henry A. Tobey, obtained work there reading his poetry at libraries and literary gatherings. Later the same year, Tobey and Thatcher published Dunbar's second collection of verse, Majors and Minors . Dunbar gained popularity throughout the country because of his dialect poems and the positive reviews hi work received from the eminent novelist William Dean Howells, writing in Harper's Weekly in 1896. This recognition by America's greatest critic was the beginning of Paul's national reputation.

In 1897, Dunbar was sponsored by the Savage Club in London, England, to give a series of readings and, after his return to America, he obtained employment at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. The following year, on March 8, 1898, he married Miss Alice Ruth Moore, a teacher and writer from New Orleans. They separated in 1902, and this caused Dunbar to suffer emotional depression. At the same time he developed tuberculosis. After a short stay in Colorado he returned to Washington, where his health continued to decline even as he presisted in producing poems. But his reliance on alcohol to temper his physical and psychological problems only exacerbated his illness. In 1903 he visited his half-brother in Chicago. The following year he returned to Dayton to stay with his mother. On February 9, 1906, he died in his mother's arms at the age of 33.

Although ill and depressed toward the end of his life, Dunbar somehow found the resolve to continue his writing. Altogether he produced twelve poetry books, four books of short stories, five novels and one drama. Forty of his poems were set to music by famous musicians of his time, including Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and the black composer J. Rosamond Johnson. Fifteen of his short stories appeared in such publications as Lippincott's, The Sunday Evening Post, Independent, Dayton Tattler, Harper's Weekly, Century, Denver Post, Smart Set, Outlook, Bookman, and Current Literature .

The collection includes some material concerning Paul's mother, Matilda Jane Dunbar, who was born into slavery in Fayette County, Kentucky, near Shelbyville. She died in Dayton on February 24, 1943. She came to Dayton following the Civil War after marrying Joshua Dunbar, also born a slave. By a previous marriage to Wilson W. Murphy of Louisville, Kentucky, she had two children, William and Robert, about whom very little is known.

The final person to be discussed in this collection is the wife of Paul Laurence Dunbar, Mrs. Alice Ruth Moore Dunbar. She was born July 19, 1875, in New Orleans and died Septemebr 18, 1935, in Philadelphia. They were married on March 8, 1898, and were together only four years before separating in 1902. No children were born of this marriage. She had two more marriages, one to Henry Arthur Callis which lasted only a year and another to journalist Robert J. Nelson which lasted until her death. She had a Master of Arts degree from Cornell University and did postgraduate studies at Pennsylvania School of Industrial Art. She was a writer, taught at various schools and was active in organizations promoting racial equality and women's rights.

The city of Dayton and the entire nation have shown their appreciation of Paul Laurence Dunbar's contributions to American literature. Schools, banks, and hospitals all over the country have been named in his honor. In the Dayton area, we have Dunbar Avenue, changed from Baxter Street in 1909. Dunbar High School was erected in 1933. In 1938, his family home was dedicated as a state museum by the Ohio Historical Society and is now a national landmark. In 1976, the U.S. Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp in his honor. His tomb at Dayton's Woodland Cemetery is marked by a statue erected in his memory. Most recently, the University Library of Wright State University has been renamed the Paul Laurence Dunbar Library.

Dunbar's work represents a legacy not only to black Americans but to all people who have loved his poetry. Many have been inspired by his work, which represents a triumph of the human spirit over racism, poverty, and adversity.

From the guide to the Paul Laurence Dunbar Collection, 1890-2001, (Dayton Metro Library)

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Ark ID:
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Subjects:

  • African American authors
  • Publishers and Publishing
  • African Americans--Music
  • African American poets
  • American literature--African American authors
  • African Americans
  • African Americans--History--Sources
  • Race discrimination
  • Poetry

Occupations:

  • Authors
  • Poets

Places:

  • United States (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • Ohio (as recorded)
  • Dayton (Ohio) (as recorded)