A Prolific Young Writer

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Although he lived a mere thirty-three years, Paul Laurence Dunbar published six volumes of poetry, four novels, and quite a few volumes of short stories. Altogether, he authored no fewer than twenty books. For all this prodigious productivity and in spite of his widespread reputation as the first African American to master the art of writing poetry, Dunbar, a lyricist of tremendous ability, has come down to modern readers primarily as a poet of “Negro” dialect. In the process, he also acquired the reputation of being a superb reader of his own poetry. As poet and reader, he was eagerly sought after, and whether it was in London, New York, Washington, the South, or his birthplace, Dayton, Ohio, his soft, musical voice induced his listeners to take note of his poetic abilities, his devotion to his art, and his determination to live as a professional artist.

Encumbered by sorrow, ill-health, frequent financial difficulties, unfulfilled love, and an unhappy marriage, he persevered; with a heroic resilience, Dunbar composed throughout his entire life, each composition showing promise of greater literary achievement than the one before. Even in the midst of failing health and a crushed spirit, he could produce poetry full of love, laughter, and sunshine. From all accounts, his untiring devotion to his mother, and hers to him, must have gone a long way in maintaining this equanimity in the midst of trying times.