Paul Laurence Dunbar - Encyclopedia




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PAUL LAURENCE DUNBAR (1872-1906), American author, of negro descent, was born in Dayton, Ohio, on the 27th of June 1872. He graduated (1891) from the Dayton high school, had a varied experience as elevator boy, mechanic and journalist, and in1897-1898held a position on the staff of the Library of Congress, resigning in December 1898 to devote himself to literary work. He died of consumption at his home in Dayton on the 8th of February 1906. His poetry was brought to the attention of American readers by William Dean Howells, who wrote an appreciative introduction to his Lyrics of Lowly Life (1896). Subsequently Dunbar published eleven other volumes of verse, three novels and five collections of short stories. Some of his short stories and sketches, especially those dealing with the American negro, are charming; they are far superior to his novels, which deal with scenes in which the author is not so much at home. His most enduring work, however, is his poetry. Some of this is in literary English, but the best is in the dialect of his people. In it he has preserved much of their very temperament and outlook on life, usually with truth and freshness of feeling, united with a happy choice of language and much lyrical grace and sweetness, and often with rare humour and pathos. These poems of the soil are a distinct contribution to American literature, and entitle the author to be called preeminently the poet of his race in America.

See Life and Works of Paul Laurence Dunbar (Naperville, Ill., 1907), with a biography by L. K. Wiggins.

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