BORN: June 27, 1872, Dayton, Ohio
DIED: February 9, 1906, Dayton, Ohio
IDENTIFICATION: The first African American born after the Civil War to establish himself as an important writer, known especially for his poems in black dialect and for those written on themes relating to black life.
Paul Laurence Dunbar was the first black writer to make major contributions to the tradition of dialect writing, although he neither invented the genre nor limited himself to it. He was noted for his use of African American dialect and forms to reflect black life with depth and sympathy. He was arguably the most important African American poet before the Harlem Renaissance, but his work fell into critical disfavor when the poetry of Langston Hughes, Countée Cullen, Sterling Brown, and others began to appear. It remained popular with readers, however, and after the 1972 centennial of Dunbar's birth, his critical reputation as a poet and a novelist was revitalized. He has been cited as a major influence by poets such as Nikki Giovanni, Maya Angelou, and Countée Cullen.