Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906) was born to freed slaves from Kentucky. He became one of the first influential Black poets in American literature, and was internationally acclaimed for his dialectic verse in collections such as Majors and Minors (1895) and Lyrics of Lowly Life (1896). But the dialectic poems constitute only a small portion of Dunbar’s canon, which is replete with novels, short stories, essays, and many poems in standard English. In its entirety, Dunbar’s literary body is regarded as an impressive representation of Black life in turn-of-the-century America. As Dunbar’s friend James Weldon Johnson noted in the preface to his Book of American Poetry: “Paul Laurence Dunbar stands out as the first poet from the Negro race in the United States to show a combined mastery over poetic material and poetic technique, to reveal innate literary distinction in what he wrote, and to maintain a high level of performance. He was the first to rise to a height from which he could take a perspective view of his own race. He was the first to see objectively its humor, its superstitions, its short-comings; the first to feel sympathetically its heart-wounds, its yearnings, its aspirations, and to voice them all in a purely literary form.”

Learn more about Paul Laurence Dunbar from the Poetry Foundation by clicking here.