HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO PAUL LAURENCE DUNBAR!
Paul Laurence Dunbar was an African-American poet, novelist, and playwright of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Much of his popular work in his lifetime used a Negro dialect, which helped him become one of the 1st nationally-accepted African-American writers. Much of his writing, however, does not use dialect; these more traditional poems have become of greater interest to scholars.
?Dunbar became one of the 1st African-American poets to earn nation-wide distinction and acceptance. The New York Times called him “a true singer of the people — white or black.”
?In his preface to The Book of American Negro Poetry (1931) writer and activist James Weldon Johnson criticized Dunbar’s dialect poems for fostering stereotypes of blacks as comical or pathetic and reinforcing the restriction that blacks write only scenes of plantation life.
?Writer Maya Angelou called her autobiographical book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969) after a line from Dunbar’s poem “Sympathy” at the suggestion of jazz musician and activist Abbey Lincoln. Angelou named Dunbar an inspiration for her “writing ambition” and uses his imagery of a caged bird like a chained slave throughout much of her writings.
?In 2002, Molefi Kete Asante listed Paul Laurence Dunbar on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.
?Dunbar’s vaudeville song “Who Dat Say Chicken in Dis Crowd” (1898), may have influenced the development of “Who dat? Who dat? Who dat say gonna beat dem Saints?”, the New Orleans Saints’ chant.
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