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Happy birthday, Paul Laurence Dunbar!

A type-written note from Paul Laurence Dunbar’s Remingon No. 6. Jospeh H. Douglass was the grandson of the abolitionist Frederick Douglass. The elder Douglass extolled Dunbar’s poetry.

For Paul Laurence Dunbar, going viral in the late 19th century involved a favorable review of his second collection of poetry in Harper’s Weekly by noted literary critic William Dean Howells. The article was published on June 27, 1896, his 22nd birthday, and heralded Major and Minors, which had a very limited first printing. Dunbar was an overnight sensation, rising to fame as America’s most distinguished African American poet to date.

Today marks his 150th birthday.

Dunbar was famous for several collections of poetry, both in formal English and in dialect, of which I am proud to say that I own three autographed editions, including Major and Minors. Maya Angelou borrowed a line of his poetry, “I know why the caged bird sings,” for the title of her autobiography. Among Dunbar’s more recognized works are “We Wear the Mask,” “Sympathy” (which contains the line), and “Ships That Pass in the Night.”

Maya Angelou’s recitation of “Sympathy” is particularly moving:

For typewriter collectors, it is worth noting that Dunbar owned a Remington Standard No. 6, which is on display in his home in Dayton, Ohio, a residence that now serves as a museum. He typed on the machine himself, though he also employed a typist.

© 2022, Mark Adams. All rights reserved.

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Discrimination (1888)

Cosmopolitan Shorthander (Toronto), July 1888 –

© 2022 – 2021, Mark Adams. All rights reserved.

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From The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa), February 24, 1900 –

© 2022 – 2021, Mark Adams. All rights reserved.

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A lost story (1905)

Pitman’s Journal (London), July 8, 1905 –

Youth and Nature

Is this the sky, and this the very earth
I had such pleasure in when I was young?
And can this be the identical sea-song,
Heard once within the storm-cloud’s awful girth,
When a great cloud from silence burst to birth,
And winds to whom it seemed I did belong
Made the keen blood in me run swift and strong
With irresistible, tempestuous mirth?

Are these the forests loved of old so well,
Where on May nights enchanted music was?
Are these the fields of soft, delicious grass,
These the old hills with secret things to tell?
O my dead youth, was this inevitable,
That with thy passing, Nature, too, should pass?

© 2022 – 2021, Mark Adams. All rights reserved.

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An alternative (1888)

Here’s an alternate version of the “typewriter” joke:

Cosmopolitan Shorthander (Toronto), May 1888 –

© 2022, Mark Adams. All rights reserved.

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