Paul Laurence Dunbar

June 27, 1872 — 

February 9, 1906

Paul Laurence Dunbar was born in Dayton, Ohio on June 27, 1872 to parents who had escaped from slavery.  Dunbar was an African-American poet and novelist.  His writings portrayed the African-American life of his era, focusing on African-American accomplishments and pride.  He was the first black author to gain national recognition and a wide popular audience.

In 1886, Dunbar entered Central High School in Dayton as the only African-American student in his class.  He graduated in 1891. In school, he served as editor of the school newspaper and was the class poet.


Dunbar published his first ook of poems, Oak and Ivy, in 1893 with his own money, and his second book, Majors and Minors, two years later. William Dean Howells, then one of America’s most distinguished literary critics, read the second book and urged the young poet to concentrate on black dialect verse.

With the 1896 publication of Lyrics of Lowly Life, Dunbar’s professional career got off to a fabulous start. His works began to sell well enough for him to earn his living as a writer. His short stories, which began appearing in popular magazines in the 1890s, often depicted African American folk characters, Southern scenes and humorous situations.

Paul Laurence Dunbar died on February 9, 1906 in Dayton.  His stories and poems continue to live on and show how well he succeeded in capturing the elements of African American life.