Paul Laurence DunbarPaul Laurence Dunbar was born June 27, 1872 in Dayton, OH. His mother Matilda, was a former slave and his father Joshua had escaped slavery and served in the 55th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment and the 5th Massachusetts Colored Calvary Regiment during the Civil war (online). Joshua and Matilda separated in 1874.
Dunbar came from a poor family. After his father left, his mother supported the family by working as a washerwoman. One of the families she worked for was the family of Orville and Wilbur Wright. Paul attended Dayton's Central High School with the two. When Matilda was a slave she heard a lot of poems by the families she worked for. She loved poetry and encouraged her children to read poetry as well. Dunbar began writing and reciting poetry as early as age six.
Paul was one of the most popular poets of his time and was the first black American writer to achieve national and international reputation.
He was not only a poet, but also a novelist, short story writer, writer of articles and dramatic sketches, plays and lyrics for musical compositions. His first volume of poetry, "Oak and Ivy" was published in 1893. Many of his poems and stories were written in Afro-American dialect, of which he was initially most noted for (Martin and Hudson 16).
His second volume, "Majors and Minors" was published in 1895. "Majors and Minor" were a collection of poems that was written in standard English ("major") and in dialect ("minor") (Young 373). It was this book that fixed him on his literary path. This book attracted favorable notice by novelist and critic, William Dean Howells who also introduced Dunbar's next book, "Lyrics of Lowly Life" which contained some of the finest verses of the first two volumes.