Paul Laurence Dunbar (June 27, 1872 - February 9, 1906) was a seminal American poet of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Dunbar gained national recognition for his 1896 Lyrics of a Lowly Life, one poem in the collection being Ode to Ethiopia. Born in Dayton, Ohio to parents who had escaped from slavery, Dunbar's father was a veteran of the American Civil War, having served in the 55th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment and the 5th Massachusetts Colored Cavalry Regiment. His parents instilled in him a love of learning and history. He was the only black student at Dayton Central High School, but he participated actively as a student. During college, he was both the editor of the school newspaper and class president, as well as the president of the school literary society.
He wrote his first poem at age 6 and gave his first public recital at age 9.
Dunbar's first published work came in a newspaper put out by his high-school friends, Wilbur and Orville Wright, who owned a printing plant. The Wright Brothers later invested in the Dayton Tattler, a newspaper aimed at the black community edited and published by Dunbar.
His first collection of poetry, Oak and Ivy was published in 1892 and attracted the attention of James Whitcomb Riley, the popular "Hoosier Poet". Both Riley and Dunbar wrote poems in both standard English and dialect. His second book, Majors and Minors (1895) brought him national fame and the patronage of William Dean Howells, the novelist and critic and editor of Harper's Weekly. After Howells' praise, his first two books were combined as Lyrics of a Lowly Life and Dunbar started on a career of international literary fame that was cut short by his early death.
He moved to Washington, D.C., in the Le Droit...