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Thu, 06.27.1872

Paul Laurence Dunbar, Poet, and Lyricist born

Paul L. Dunbar

*Paul Laurence Dunbar was born in Dayton, Ohio, on this date in 1872. He was a Black Writer.  He is the son of Joshua Dunbar and Matilda Burton Murphy, who were married on December 24, 1871.

Dunbar was one of the first black writers to gain national prominence. He published his first volume of verse, “Oak and Ivy,” at his own expense.  His second book of poetry was “Majors and Minors.” In 1896 the best of his poems appeared in a single volume, “Lyrics of Lowly Life,” with an introduction by American writer William Dean Howell who noted that Dunbar was the first black poet to express the lyrical qualities of Black life and the Black dialect.

After publishing “Lyrics of a Lowly Life,” Dunbar gave readings in the United States and Britain.  He subsequently worked at the Library of Congress.  For most of his career, Dunbar wrote for a white audience and generally avoided racial issues in his work.  He wrote several more volumes of poetry and four novels, the best known of which is “The Sport of the Gods,” the story of a Black family in a Northern city in the United States. Dunbar also wrote four collections of short stories.  In 1898, he married Alice Nelson.

In 1900, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis (TB), then often fatal, and his doctors recommended drinking whisky to alleviate his symptoms. On the advice of his doctors, he moved to Colorado with his wife, as the cold, dry mountain air was considered favorable for TB patients. Dunbar and his wife separated in 1902, but they never divorced. Depression and declining health drove him to a dependence on alcohol, further damaging his health.

Dunbar returned to Dayton in 1904 to be with his mother. He died of tuberculosis on February 9, 1906, at 33.  He was interred in the Woodland Cemetery in Dayton.

His Collected Poems appeared in 1913.

To be a Writer




The Vintage Book of African American Poetry
Edited and with Introduction by Michael S. Harper & Anthony Walton
Copyright 2000
Vintage Books, Random House Ind., New York
ISBN 0-375-70300-7

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