The literary works of Paul Laurence Dunbar

University of Dayton scholars are preserving the works of Paul Laurence Dunbar by sharing his life and poetry on these pages, including performances that reanimate the poet's words.

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 in the same the way that Mark Twain was in prose, using dialect to convey character.