ABSTRACT

From the 1880s through the 1910s, elocution, the art of reciting literature, flourished. While remembered today as an eclectic aspect of nineteenth-century school curricula, professional elocutionists' dramatic recitations were popular events. Unlike authors who read their original works or theater troupes who presented plays, elocutionists performed previously published literature as soloists; some even called themselves “public readers,” who offered their interpretations as creative acts. This article examines the understudied writings of African American elocutionist Hallie Quinn Brown and the archival collection of her programs and performance posters. Often billed as an interpreter of Paul Laurence Dunbar's poetry, Brown's public readings of his dialect poetry, including “The Party,” enhanced her audience's silent reading of Dunbar's work. Examining Brown's archival record leads us to think more carefully about how Dunbar may have crafted his dialect poems. For example, situating “The Party” in the context of other elocutionary recital pieces highlights how the poem subverts the conventions of these popular poems.

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