This week we continue our tribute to Black History Month. Paul Dunbar was the husband of last week’s author Alice Dunbar Nelson until he died is 1906 of TB. Born to former slaves in Dayton, Ohio, where he was boyhood friends with the Wright Brothers, Paul Laurence Dunbar is best remembered for lines from Sympathy that became the title of Maya Angelou’s famous autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Frederick Douglass called him “the most promising young colored man in America”. However, he became one of the first African-American writers to establish an international reputation.
Much of his work is written in “dialect” which brought a mix of criticism and praise. Some said his use of dialect fostered stereotypes of blacks as comical or pathetic.
Others said “he was the first to rise to a height from which he could take a perspective view of his own race. He was the first to see objectively its humor, its superstitions, its short-comings; the first to feel sympathetically its heart-wounds, its yearnings, its aspirations, and to voice them all in a purely literary form.”
So. Is it stereotypical, or sympathetic? I will read these stories. You be the judge.