Paul Laurence Dunbar
was the first African-American to gain national eminence as a poet. Born
in 1872 in Dayton, Ohio, he was the son of ex-slaves and classmate to
Orville Wright of aviation fame.
Although he lived to be only 33 years old, Dunbar
was prolific, writing short stories, novels, librettos, plays, songs and
essays as well as the poetry for which he became well known. He was
popular with black and white readers of his day, and his works are
celebrated today by scholars and school children alike.
His style encompasses two distinct voices -- the
standard English of the classical poet and the evocative dialect of the
turn-of-the-century black community in America. He was gifted in poetry --
the way that Mark Twain was in prose -- in using dialect to convey