Paul Laurence Dunbar Additional Biography


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

ph_0111201206-Dunbar.jpg Paul Laurence Dunbar. Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Paul Laurence Dunbar was born in Dayton, Ohio, on June 27, 1872, the son of Joshua and Matilda Glass Burton Murphy Dunbar, former slaves from Kentucky. Matilda Dunbar had two sons, William and Robert Murphy, by a previous marriage to R. Weeks Murphy prior to the emancipation; Paul Laurence Dunbar, born shortly after Matilda’s marriage to Joshua Dunbar, was the only child that Joshua and Matilda had together.

Dunbar’s parents were divorced when he was still a small boy, and his father died when Dunbar was twelve. After her two older sons left home, Matilda Dunbar focused all of her attention on young Paul. Not only did she teach him to read, but she also exposed him to a number of literary works. More important, both mother and father passed on a number of stories from slavery days. These stories triggered a strong interest and imagination in Dunbar and became the basis for his most popular and enduring works.

Dunbar’s interest in writing dated back to his high school days at Dayton’s Central High School. Although he was the only black student in his class, he was immensely popular. Dunbar’s first published poem appeared when he was about sixteen years old, and as he continued publishing, he also became class president, editor of the high school newspaper, class poet, and president of the literary society. In addition, Dunbar founded the short-lived Dayton Tattler, a newspaper which reported news of Dayton’s black community.

Because of a lack of funds, Dunbar was not able to attend college upon his graduation from high school in 1891; instead, he accepted a job as an elevator operator in the Callahan Building in downtown Dayton. This was one of very few reasonably respectable jobs open to African Americans at the time. For his services, Dunbar earned only four dollars per week, but the job gave him plenty of time to read and write poetry and to write articles which he published in various newspapers. In addition, Dunbar wrote several short stories during this period.

Shortly before Dunbar’s twentieth birthday, he got the break that brought him to the attention of the literary establishment and launched his career as the United States’ foremost black poet. At the...

(The entire section is 916 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Dunbar strived to address real concerns about the lives of black people throughout his relatively short career. In his poetry, short stories, novels, and song lyrics, he was often caught between becoming an artistic or a popular success, yet Dunbar rarely compromised his sincerity in treating his subject matter or his craft. This fact has earned for him an enduring place in American literature.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

The child of former slaves, Joshua and Matilda Glass Burton Murphy Dunbar, Paul Laurence Dunbar was raised in Dayton, Ohio; his younger sister died when he was three and his father when Paul was twelve. In high school, he was the only African American, but perhaps both despite and because of this he became president of his class, managing editor of his school newspaper, president of the school literary club, and class poet. While still in high school, he published poems in local newspapers and served as editor for the Dayton Tattler, published by classmate Orville Wright, coinventor of the airplane. Despite Dunbar’s scholastic excellence, Dayton’s discriminatory policies forced the young graduate to take a menial position as an elevator operator while he continued to write. Encouraged by other writers and a former teacher, Dunbar published privately his first collection of poetry, Oak and Ivy (1893). His second collection, Majors and Minors (1895), won William Dean Howells’s praise and sent him on the road to fame, but for Dunbar it was for all the wrong reasons.

In 1898, Dunbar married Alice Ruth Moore, a Creole writer from New Orleans; the childless couple separated in 1902. Dunbar died in 1906, at the age of thirty-three, of tuberculosis, of the effects of the alcohol prescribed to treat it, and of the melancholy brought on by his belief that his life had been a failure.


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Paul Laurence Dunbar’s creative genius and personal and professional tragedies have often been misunderstood by readers who neglect to consider the poet in the context of his time, which was not just marked, but defined, by all-encompassing racial politics. At the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries, commonly referred to by scholars of African American history as the nadir, Dunbar was a singular phenomenon, trapped between his audience’s demands that he be the voice of his race and his own creative mandate that he not be restricted to any given subject matter. Dunbar wrote not merely evocative but enduring work, particularly as a poet. In addition to six volumes of verse, he also wrote four...

(The entire section is 409 words.)


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Paul Laurence Dunbar was born to former slaves Joshua Dunbar and Matilda J. Murphy Dunbar on June 27, 1872. He spent his early childhood in Dayton, Ohio, where he attended Central High School. Dunbar began to write at age sixteen and gained early patronage for his work, and he was introduced to the Western Association of Writers in 1892.

The next few years of his life found him in the presence of great black leaders. He met Frederick Douglass, Mary Church Terrell, and Ida B. Wells at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. He met W. E. B. Du Bois in 1896 and Booker T. Washington in 1897. These encounters influenced Dunbar’s literary tone and perspective significantly. He blended the creative perspective of Washington with the social philosophy of Du Bois in order to present a valid scenario of African Americans after the Civil War.

Major James B. Pond, a Dunbar enthusiast, sponsored a trip to England for the writer that extended from February to August of 1897. Upon his return to the United States, Dunbar married Alice Moore and decided to earn his living as a writer. Between 1898 and 1903, Dunbar wrote essays for newspapers and periodicals, primarily addressing the issues of racial equality and social justice in the United States. He attempted to establish his own journalistic voice through a periodical that he named the Dayton Tattler in 1890. This effort failed.

During the latter years of his life, Dunbar wrote lyrics, including those for the school song for Tuskegee Institute. Dunbar died in Dayton, Ohio, on February 9, 1906.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Paul Laurence Dunbar was the first black writer in the post-Civil War United States to gain national prominence and acceptance by both the black and the white communities. Born in Dayton, Ohio, in 1872, Dunbar learned of slavery from his parents, both of whom had served different slave masters in Kentucky. Joshua Dunbar, his father, had escaped to Canada through the Underground Railroad and had returned to the United States at the start of the Civil War. Growing up in Dayton, young Dunbar usually was one of a small group of black students who attended predominantly white schools. In fact, when he entered Central High School in Dayton in 1886, he was the only black student in his class. Involved in literary, debate, and journalistic...

(The entire section is 888 words.)