Graphic Classics Volume 22: African-American Classics
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About the Author
Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906) was an African American poet, novelist, and playwright. Born in Dayton, Ohio, Dunbar was the son of parents who were emancipated from slavery in Kentucky during the American Civil War. He began writing stories and poems as a young boy, eventually publishing some in a local newspaper at the age of sixteen. In 1890, Dunbar worked as a writer and editor for The Tattler, Dayton's first weekly newspaper for African Americans, which was a joint project undertaken with the help of Dunbar's friends Wilbur and Orville Wright. The following year, after completing school, he struggled to make ends meet with a job as an elevator operator and envisioned for himself a career as a professional writer. In 1893, he published Oak and Ivy, a debut collection of poetry blending traditional verse and poems written in dialect. In 1896, a positive review of his collection Majors and Minors from noted critic William Dean Howells established Dunbar's reputation as a rising star in American literature. Over the next decade, Dunbar wrote ten more books of poetry, four collections of short stories, four novels, a musical, and a play. In his brief career, Dunbar became a respected advocate for civil rights, participating in meetings and helping to found the American Negro Academy. His lyrics for In Dahomey (1903) formed the centerpiece to the first musical written and performed by African Americans on Broadway, and many of his essays and poems appeared in the nation's leading publications, including Harper's Weekly and the Saturday Evening Post. Diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1900, however, Dunbar's health steadily declined in his final years, leading to his death at the age of thirty-three while at the height of his career.
Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) was a novelist, folklorist, and anthropologist whose fictional and factual accounts of black heritage remain unparalleled. In addition to her most celebrated work, the 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, Hurston's books include The Six Fools, Lies and Other Tall Tales, The Skull Talks Back, and What's the Hurry, Fox?