ABSTRACT

Widely considered the first major black American poet, Paul Laurence Dunbar dedicated his short life to writing on both sides of the color line. He was a prolific author of traditional verse and prose, much of it about the post-Reconstruction lives of African Americans, but it was his black dialect poetry that made Dunbar a household name at the turn of the century, especially among white readers. A sensitive portraitist of black life, Dunbar left a legacy that is nevertheless complicated by his occasional use of minstrelsy, his criticisms of his own race, and his competing commitments to white readers and black culture. The following uncollected works, reprinted here for the first time, exemplify these not-entirely-reconcilable sides of Dunbar even as they strengthen his reputation as an advocate for African Americans at the turn of the century. Dunbar's life and works resolutely refuse pigeonholing; with these recent recoveries at their disposal, readers may continue to approach Dunbar as a complicated but culturally central American artist.

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