1872-1906 ~ Dayton, Ohio
Dunbar was born free to ex-enslaved Africans, Matilda and Joshua Dunbar. He was a prolific poet, short story writer, novelist, writer of articles, dramatic sketches, newspaper editor, and wrote plays and lyrics for musical compositions. Motivated by his parents storytelling and various European poets, he created poetry in standard English about life, love, nature, people he knew, the injustices of slavery and on race relations in his day. His highly skilled and graceful use of southern dialect poetry was very popular for its humble, yet proud wisdom and philosophy on human nature.
Beyond his literary achievements, Dunbar dispelled the myth that Africans in America were unable to be educated. He was also mentored and hailed by Frederick Douglas as the most promising poet of his day and the "Poet Laureate of the Negro race."
Controversial and thought-provoking, he often praised African-Americans, rather than attack Europeans, in much of his work.
Dunbar was a forerunner to the Harlem Renaissance era in American Literature and he inspired writers like James Weldon Johnson, Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston to compose in the language of ordinary folk.
In the opinion of Oni Lasana, one of his many interpreters, "Dunbar is to America what Shakespeare is to English literature." He is recognized as the fore father and first free man of color to self-publish and read his works in public. Dunbar was also one of the first American poets to make a considerable living from his appearances in the US and England.
Dunbar married author, writer, poet and activist for woman rights, Alice Ruth Dunbar of New Orleans. They lived in Washington D.C. while he was employed at the Library of Congress. They had no children.
Maya Angelou, an admirer of Dunbar titled her autobiography "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings" from his most popular standard poem Sympathy. (Listen & see Sympathy video below.) Sympathy is included in the finale of "Doin' Dunbar as 'Lias' Mother" program as a "rap along" with audience participation. It is also a featured poem taught to students in the Brother Dunbar Performance Workshop.
Dunbar gained international attention before his death from tuberculosis at the age of 33. Many schools and public buildings are named in his honor.
His portrait was the first African American to be featured on the US Postage stamp. Paul Laurence Dunbar's home stands as an historic state landmark and museum in Dayton, Ohio.
Performance & Workshop
With storytellers, "Omuwuma" Jean Moss & Kwanzaa at NABS Conference & Festival, Philadelphia 2016
Aka "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings"
Music arrangement & rapped by Oni Lasana ~
The Beat: What About Us by Timbaland & Missy Elliot ~ Featuring the gone but not forgotten and the unforgettable
griots of The National Association of Black Storytellers www.NABSINC.org
"From slave ship to owner ship"
By Paul Laurence Dunbar - a sit down version by Oni Lasana as 'Lias' Mother
"It's very very difficult to help students to see him as the great poet he is. Not just a jingle tongue that mistakenly is seen as pleasing others nor as just the angry man who "Wears The Mask". Dunbar as we know was the first person of significance to call African American youngsters "little brown babies" which to a people who's children had gone from chattel to pickanninies as one poet put it "alligator bait" this was revelatory."
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