Form and Content

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

In addition to outlining the particulars of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s career as a poet and writer, Addison Gayle’s Oak and Ivy: A Biography of Paul Laurence Dunbar discusses the fundamental conflicts and divisions between African Americans and whites in the late 1800’s, primarily by looking at Dunbar’s ambivalence as reflected in his literary works. Gayle starts his biography with a powerful anecdote. A scholar, Dr. Chapman, was scheduled to speak in Toledo, Ohio, on “The Negro in the South,” and Dunbar was to read poetry during the same presentation. Chapman was unaware of sharing the podium and made unkind, racist remarks about the poet in particular, as well as about the entire black race. Dunbar angrily took the stage and recited a poem of praise to his race, “Ode to Ethiopia,” that tells of the African American’s struggle and contribution to the United States. Gayle ends this first chapter with a brief paragraph about Dunbar dancing on stage while reciting “The Cornstalk Fiddle,” one of Dunbar’s dialect poems, and thus enlightens the reader about Dunbar’s internal struggle over the two types of poetry that he wrote.

Gayle’s biography is divided into nine chapters and includes an introduction, chronology, a list of Dunbar’s works, a bibliography of materials written about him, and an index. The chapter titles are lines from his poetry, modified versions of lines, or titles of fictional works. The biography’s title, Oak and Ivy, was also the title of Dunbar’s first published book of poetry, published in...

(The entire section is 641 words.)