The Circle Association's


CONTENTS of this website

Introduction and Biography




Maya Angelou

Gwendolyn Brooks

Lucille Clifton

Rita Dove

Ismael Reed

Phat Poet Links

For more African American Literature go to
Snally Gaster's Author and Poet pages

 Paul Laurence Dunbar, (1872 - 1906), was born, as was described in his day, a "pure Black" - that is, both his mother and father were known not have white ancestors. Dunbar's father escaped from slavery in Kentucky to freedom in Canada, while his mother was freed by the events of the civil war, and came North to Ohio, where they met, and where their son was born at Dayton. In Dayton, Dunbar's father picked up the trade of a plasterer, and taught himself to read, his love was History. His mother shared his father's passion for literature, and her love was poetry.

Even while attending school he received considerable praise around Dayton for his inventiveness with poetry and fiction. Notable schoolmates were the Wright Brothers, the inventors of the airplane, with whom Dunbar remained friends with for life. [Note: Wright State University in Dayton, has an extraordinaryily large collection of Dunbar's papers. There is a Class of 1890 Central High School photo with Dunbar and Orville Wright.]

Though Dunbar was 20 and operating an elevator when his first two work, Oak and Ivy  (1892) was published, he had already a reputation in Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois. An invitation to recite at the 1893 World's Fair introduced him to Frederick Douglass, who was in charge of the Haitian exhibit. Douglass gave Dunbar a job and later said that he considered Dunbar to be "the most promising young colored man in America." However, they did not reach the national scene.

Majors and Minors  was soon published (1895) and caught the attention of the famous literary critic William Dean Howells. Howells' favorable review in Harper's Weekly made Dunbar a national figure literally overnight. Lyrics of a Lowly Life  (1896), a combination of the first two books published with an introduction by Howells, awarded him a national reputation and enabled him to concentrate upon a literary career.

Dunbar was called the greatest Negro poet since Russia's Pushkin and France's Dumas, both of whose "white blood" was said to be responsible for their abilities. Upon his return from a recitation tour of England, Dunbar married another young writer, Alice Ruth Moore of New Orleans, and took a job at the Library of Congress in Washington, D. C. (1897-98). He was invited to ride in the inaugural parade of William McKinley - a nearly unheard of honor. But the tedious work was not to his liking, and the dust of the library aggravated a steadily worsening case of tuberculosis. Less than a year after taking the job, Dunbar quit the Library of Congress. Although he was supposed to rest, Dunbar devoted all his time to writing and giving recitals.

His first three novels--including The Uncalled (1898), which reflected his own spiritual problems--were about white characters. His last, sometimes considered his best, was The Sport of the Gods (1902), concerning an uprooted black family in the urban North.

Suffering from Tuberculosis, Dunbar's life was short. Inspite of his illness, Dunbar wrote prose as well as poetry until his early death at the age of 34. His Complete Poems  was published in 1913, seven years after his death.

We hope you enjoy our pages of Mr. Paul Laurence Dunbar's poetry. I'm certain you will find many old favorites. However; it may come as a surprise that not all of his poetry is in dialect. Indeed, Mr. Dunbar would have been pleased to earn a living from his non-dialect poetry, but.... As an example, begin with two of his autobiographical poems: The Poet and his Song, and The Poet , on PAGE1.

These pages are inspired by and is dedicated to Raymond Smith, founder of the Circle Brotherhood Association.

Not enough poems here? Email me your favorite works of the masters (no amateurs please).